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Joseph Campana
Performance Reviews
Ballet
Modern/Contemporary
Jacob's Pillow
United States
Massachusetts
Beckett, MA
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Brave New Worlds: Ballet Maribor's Radio and Juliet at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival

by Joseph Campana
July 4, 2009
Jacob's Pillow
358 George Carter Road
Beckett, MA 01223
413 243 0745
Ballet Maribor web site
Juliet Capulet, intoxicated by her newfound love for the son of her sworn enemies, forgives Romeo Montague for his family, saying "'Tis but thy name that is my enemy" before uttering those famous lines, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet." When Jacob's Pillow Dance announced its summer season, it included the suggestively titled Radio and Juliet by Edward Clug, choreographer and artistic director of Ballet Maribor, one of Slovenia's two national companies. Set to the music of alternative rock superstars Radiohead, Radio and Juliet is as sweet as its namesake because it avoids the tried, true, and often trite choreographic interpretations of Shakespeare's classic. Why, after all, should adolescents offing themselves and one another be such an easy source of pretty, melodramatic grandeur?

Clug recognizes the story of Romeo and Juliet as the source of what we might call a mythic complex: we interact with the story by replaying it in our heads and dreaming of the nature of first and tragic loves. By replacing the urgencies of narrative with the architecture of myth (and our often unthinking devotion to particular myths), Clug gets at the disturbing core of what Shakespeare himself saw in the love of Romeo and Juliet. What Clug does, and what contemporary choreographers would do well to do more often, is to make anew the idea of what a story ballet, even one with such history, can be. Radio and Juliet works in an abstracted landscape of vicious and elegant motion. The story is not of primary concern; we all know it anyway. If anything, the spare world of Radio and Juliet forces us to strip away our illusions about perhaps the most famous myth of true love.

Clug studied under the Russian influenced tradition of Romanian dance but departed for Slovenia at 18 when he finished his training, so his choreography is also inflected by modern movement; in a public interview Clug referred to Forsythe but also an avant-garde dance scene in Slovenia. His extraordinary dancers work with a movement vocabulary he developed primarily from a classical idiom. The spine is upright, the body never soft but always fluid, even when in the midst of flurries of vicious motion. Often the dancers angle at the hips creating with their bodies odd geometries of longing and torment that never abandon—even when prone or crawling on the floor—the uprightness of the classical body. Clug's dancers whip their limbs about with equal measures of grace and frenzy.

But this intensely compact hour long performance begins in stillness, with a remarkable black and white film, segments of which play at the back of the stage periodically throughout the performance. In the opening, a handheld camera draws us into a run down building that was clearly once grand. We see Juliet in a gorgeously spare apartment, a mattress on the floor. Is she asleep? Dreaming of Romeo? Already dead? Her eyes flutter open, bright but weary as if from having seen too much. At other moments, the film replayed movement already seen live. Clug recognizes that for most viewers, cinema is a primary way of viewing the world even as the cinematic industry competes with newer and shinier forms of technology while also faltering under the weight of its sagging quality. Like the Dogme 95 films of Lars von Trier and others, this film made the performance incredibly, quickly, and queasily intimate. Radiohead provided the perfect soundtrack for both the film and the dance. Sometimes organ or cellos make for a meditative backdrop. At others, post-punk electronica accentuated the inexorably choreographed brutality of desire.

But intimacy in Radio and Juliet does not appear where we expect; the piece creates a ratio of six interchangeable and substitutable "Romeos" to one Juliet, all seven drawn from his forty-one member company. The transcendent Tijuana Kri_man shifting from animalistic—sniffing each Romeo as if to recognize the scent of desire—to mechanistic, as if she were the wind-up woman of every Romeo's desire. The men were sexy, sweet, vicious and mysterious all at once. Their movement patterns were frequently shared. One Romeo would initiate and the others follow. Then, the Romeos would perform the same movement out of sequence. The men would divide into smaller groupings, recombine, or replace one another at will, as in a stunning wedding scene. Each time the couple took a step toward a priest backstage, another Romeo would come out and replace the previous one. At one moment, a line of four Romeos performs the gestures of a fight, each transmitting violence, in the form of movement, to the next as if they were the gorgeous gears of the engine that keeps Romeo and Juliet's violent love running endlessly throughout the ages. As a crowd of party goers in surgical masks, these men proved the Shakespearean dictum that love is not only a fever but a disease spreading in the close quarters of Clug's minimalist Verona.

They were dynamic, these men, stylish in black suits they wore without shirts. Their frenetic movement would often reveal a flash of royal purple linings. The men would flick their jackets or straighten their collars, each a come-on that made sex and violence nearly indistinguishable, as is the case in Shakespeare's original. In these black suits and with their leaps, spins, and tangled duets with one another, it was, at moments, like watching the gorgeous fight sequences of The Matrix. Clug was himself one of the Romeos and couldn't have been sexier or more explosive. His fight scenes with Sergiu Moga were startling reminders that so much violence in Romeo and Juliet comes from the always almost erotic combat between men. As distinctive and individual as each man was, one had the feeling, watching Radio and Juliet, that these dancers had committed to the work of a pure ensemble of seven, and each dancer seemed ready to step into any role at any time.

The closing moments of Radio and Juliet were perhaps the most surprising and cinematic. First, the men hold a seemingly dead Romeo by his clothes. His body hangs limply as they parrot, and brutally mock, a crew of pallbearers. Moments later, in a series of freeze frame, or stills, we see, first, Romeo standing, holding a Juliet hanging from his neck. After a flash of darkness, Juliet stands, holding a Romeo who hangs from her body. The body stays upright in Clug's classical idiom, even at the cusp of death, but the weight of the exhausted body is palpable. Moments later, Juliet sits, hinging her body awkwardly, as she pulls a lemon from Romeo's coat pocket bites into it. The lemon appeared just moments earlier in a snippet of film that closes with the closing of the ornate, weathered door that opened the film an hour earlier. Death comes as the shutting off of all the lights, including the inner light of the mind that illuminates the fantastic cinema of the inner eye.

For many, the adaptation of great works (those of Shakespeare or of the great masters of classical ballet) is to be measured by their fidelity to the original. Here, Clug proves that fidelity means neither slavish imitation nor historical preservation. Rather, an artist must find his own core truth in the stories that stretch powerfully and painfully through time. Radio and Juliet provides clear evidence of Clug's capacity to do so. Perhaps the greatest surprise of Ballet Mirabor's Radio and Juliet is that this was only its second performance in North America (after premiering last fall in Pittsburgh). We can only hope this won't be its last.
Ballet Maribor in 'Radio and Juliet'

Ballet Maribor in "Radio and Juliet"

Photo © & courtesy of Karli Cadel


Ballet Maribor in 'Radio and Juliet'

Ballet Maribor in "Radio and Juliet"

Photo © & courtesy of Karli Cadel


Ballet Maribor in 'Radio and Juliet'

Ballet Maribor in "Radio and Juliet"

Photo © & courtesy of Karli Cadel

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