Ballet Movies Romeo And Juliet, And Steampunk Design

Of all the Romeo And Juliet ballet movies I have seen, This Opera National De Lyon production filmed in 1992 was a surprise for me. I could see from the DVD cover image that it is a modern ballet, easy to spot since Juliet is not wearing pointe shoes, and Romeo is wearing a suit. O.K. No velvets, pearls, gold chains or furs presenting the Italian wealth of the power elite in Verona. No rich colors to mask the bleakness of the social order.
This is a short version of the tragic love story, set in a dark sparse environment, but with style I say is best described as steampunk design, leaning toward Victorian, costume wise. Designer Enki Balal surrounds the dancers with undecorated concrete looking walls, where armed guards walk the ramparts, and everyone in the public place is under surveillance. Steampunk design depicts a Fascist edge and it’s heavily applied in the Verona we see.
The Montagues dance in loose suits that somehow never get in the way of their leaps, turns and tours en l’air. The menacing Capulets look like tightly wound, tightly armored, black storm troopers. The street gang fighting is executed with terse movement, almost a bored attack, by the Capulets. The sense of entitlement is well conveyed, with the cool assumption that they always win.

 Yet we know the twists and turns in this tale where there are no winners.

Choreographer Angelin Preljocaj succeeds in setting his Romeo And Juliet to post-classical dance moves, matching the surges and flows of the traditional Prokofiev’ score. A secure ballet technique is demanded for this ballet, and its execution is done with ease. At first I experienced a dissonance of perception but I got used to the style. The powerful emotional performances were embedded in the dramatic choreography, and it would have been difficult to remain detached, had I tried.

The two lovers in this story are not teens, but appear adult. Yet they are swept away, and show no ambivalence in the events they commit to.

Two other reviews I have read of this production describe it as that of  “a stage world reflecting a communist sterility”.  Yet the sparseness and chiariscuro lighting effects create an ambiance of charged tension that feeds the striking love pas de deux,  beautifully  danced by Pascale Doye and Nicolas Dufloux. To me it presented more potential than sterility.

The one visual that simply did not make sense to me was Juliet Capulet’s costume. It was not a steampunk design, I found it ugly and in no way lending any beauty to the dancer. It could have been much more decorative but then, perhaps this was a social statement illustrating how the female in the drama was simply a package for trade in the power structure.

I recommend this ballet  DVD, unique among the Romeo And Juliet ballet movies,  especially if you like steampunk design. Don’t forget the tissues…

“For never was a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”

Opera De Lyon modern ballet

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