'Romeo and Juliet'
May 20, 2003 -- Boston
Compelled by the dramatic
and perceptual force of Sarah Lamb's performance of Juliet in van Danzig's
meditation on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, one discovered in the welcome
geometry of her arabesque and in the backward sweep of her arms and torso
the dance images that illustrate the conflict of Shakespeare's play- divine
reason vs. earthly passion. As a reflection of providential harmony, Lamb's
arabesque manifests the Elizabethan idea of passion stilled by reason,
and in contrast her cambre back literally embodied Juliet's surrender
to love's ecstasy and death.
The cambre back's double meaning, whether used for example to depict a
bacchant in ecstasy or a dead person, is a convention of ancient pedigree
rather than an invention original to van Danzig, nevertheless it neatly
serves to illustrate the Elizabethan idea that love is a disease. In fact,
love, as a manifestation of passion or desire is synonymous with death.
The speaker in one of Shakespeare's sonnets, for example, expresses the
equation succinctly in the words 'Desire is Death.' Moreover, if left
untreated by Reason's tempering balm or unrequited, the logical outcome
of love's pathology is madness, rage, and murderous- ness. Interestingly,
in van Danzig's ballet rage, visualized, perhaps, by their red and black
costumes, dominates the Capulet sensibility generally and murderous-ness
vitiates the character of Tybalt specifically. As there is no clear Montague
counter or balance to the Capulet rage, the dramatic picture presented
ironically suggests that the love of Romeo and Juliet is continuous with
rather than antithetical to the hate and violence of Tybalt.
Although the action of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet unfolds in the abundance
of mid-summer's light, in the ballet the décor's monumental sets, the
non-use of 'natural' lighting - to mark for example the pace of days-,
and Prokofiev's heavy handed depiction of the Capulets, particularly the
music for the Capulet Ball, suggest instead a world caught in the deep
shadows of eternal sunset. In fact, the nearly colorless, but recognizable
16th century costumes of Verona's citizens gives pale witness to the perennial
half-darkness of this side-lit world. It is a world, moreover, where the
inimical Tybalt commands as the Prince of Bats rather than Cats and the
light of reason that radiates from Lamb's arabesque fatuously toils.
As the permanent dusk in van Danzig's Romeo and Juliet diminished the
power of light and reason to shape events, it fell, therefore, to the
resonating sounds of Prokofiev's score to generate meaning, shape time,
and inform feeling. A repeated use of musical themes, for example, accompanied
the waking activities of the populace in the public square before the
Capulet gate, and grinning music typically accompanied grinning group
dances. Van Danzig's most dramatic use of music, however, occurred in
the Nuptial scene, Act III, scene one of his three-act ballet. At this
moment the relationship between sight and sound slips its balletic moorings
and steams into a filmic sea. Here, like characters in a movie, the lovers,
the stilled Juliet cuddled gently next to the awakening Romeo, are oblivious
to the fierce thunderhead of dissonance the brass section builds around
them. So powerful is this towering sound of Fate that it sonically fuses
the image of love with death and crosses the lovers as well as van Danzig's
squinting meditation on Romeo ad Juliet out.
In spite of its dramatic competencies, the forced marriage between the
Elizabethan and Soviet grand narratives i.e. 'divinity shapes our ends'
and 'class struggle' shapes our ends or the image of Lamb's arabesque
and the Montague 'people' verses the Capulet 'aristocracy,' make the ballet
intellectually and aesthetically squint. For this viewer, the ballet became
instead an enjoyable string of dances that highlighted the abilities of
Sarah Lamb and Pollyana Ribeiro as Juliet, Sabi Varga and Simon Ball as
Romeo, Paul Thrussell and Christopher Budzynski as Mercutio, Yuri Yanowsky
and Raul Salamanica as Tybalt, and Erika Lambe, Shannon Parsely, and Melanie
Atkins as the Harlots to name a few. Although one could easily distance
oneself from the content and the contemporary ideological reference of
van Danzig's Romeo and Juliet, the rhetorical force of the ballet orchestra's
performance, conducted by Jonathan Mcphee, on the other hand, was irresistible.
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