Krzysztof Pastor’s Romeo and Juliet Takes a Fresh Look at a Ballet Favorite


Prokofiev, Romeo and Juliet: Artists of the Joffrey Ballet, Krzysztof Pastor (choreographer), Scott Speck (conductor), Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, 9.3.2018. (JRo)

Christine Rocas (Juliet) & Rory Hohenstein (Romeo) (c) Cheryl Mann


Juliet – Christine Rocas
Romeo – Rory Hohenstein
Mercutio – Yoshihisa Arai
Benvolio – Alberto Velazquez
Capulet – Fabrice Calmels
His wife – April Daly
Tybalt – Temur Suluashvili
Friar Lawrence – Dylan Gutierrez
Juliet’s friends – Amanda Assucena, Jeraldine Mendoza
Paris – Graham Maverick


Choreography – Krzysztof Pastor
Dramaturge – Willem Bruls
Set and Costume Design – Tatyana Walsum
Lighting Design – Bert Dalhuysen

When a ballet as ubiquitous as Romeo and Juliet produces an evening of revelatory moments, it’s significant. With its twentieth-century setting, Krzysztof Pastor’s version, performed by the Joffrey Ballet, straddles the 1930s, 1950s and 1990s of Italian politics. In the process the ballet comments not only on the price the younger generation pays for the tribalism of their elders, but also the price, on a wider stage, the young pay when nation states send their children off to die in wars.

Fierce and uncompromising, Pastor’s choreography startles and seduces. Danced convincingly by the elegant Rory Hohenstein and Christine Rocas as Romeo and Juliet and supported by a strong cast of principals and soloists, the ballet is a fresh look at a familiar piece.

Lavrovsky, Ashton, MacMillan, Nureyev, Cranko, Neumeier and Ratmansky have all had a turn at Shakespeare’s drama set to Prokofiev’s glorious score. My personal favorite is MacMillan’s; but Pastor, in shrugging off the ballet’s Renaissance setting, digs deep to tell a tale that casts a wide net across time and, in so doing, sheds new light on both the tale and the music.

The production opens in 1930s Italy. The Capulets, dressed in military black before a backdrop of Mussolini era buildings, are far more threatening than the sunnier Montagues. In clever cinematic period style, costumes and backdrop are colored in blacks, whites and greys. It is in this atmosphere that Romeo meets Juliet at her family’s ball. The setting follows the pair to the end of the balcony scene. When we meet them in the second act, the tale resumes in the 1950s. Black and white is exchanged for color and the world turns golden hued. The costumes are identical in pattern and form but with sepia, oranges and reds replacing greys. Vespas have supplanted cars on the backdrop, but the Capulets still appear militarized and formidable. Act III inhabits the 1990s, which finds Romeo and Juliet in the bedroom scene and ends with the death of the lovers. Interiors prevail, and the city recedes.

It’s a daring idea that pays off in some ways and fails in others. The time changes are subtler than one would imagine and never intrude on the drama or the dance. Instead they serve to reinforce the mythic proportions of the story – that of a tragic feud that reverberates through generations. Where it loses momentum is in the final setting when the drama unfolds in largely interior spaces and the updated time frame seems unresolved. Then, as the action coalesces around Juliet’s room, whose minimal set serves as deathbed and tomb, the narrative speeds to a conclusion. There is a rushed feeling about the final scenes, though one understands that Pastor’s modern interpretation seeks to abandon a more traditional approach.

The Joffrey corps and soloists embrace their roles as Capulets, Montagues, townspeople and soldiers, creating a believable world that morphs through the decades. The imposing Fabrice Calmels was formidable as the embattled Lord Capulet (here simply called Capulet). Huge of stature, his rage, depicted with jutting knees, pointed fingertips and shooting arms, propelled much of the drama and seemed to overpower Tybalt’s role as vengeful brother to Juliet. In fact, Juliet’s parents were central to the action. Her mother, danced so sympathetically by April Daly, became a loving witness to Juliet’s sorrow when forced to choose a husband. In a touching Act III pas de deux of mother and daughter, one sensed the helplessness of Lady Capulet’s position. It was no accident that I imagined an abused wife, powerless to thwart her overbearing husband.

Omitting the roles of the Montague parents was a puzzling decision. This left Mercutio, Romeo and Benvolio alone to carry the standard for family Montague. Yoshihisa Arai’s Mercutio was appropriately mischievous and belligerent, dancing with humor and easy grace. Alberto Velazquez’s Benvolio added luster to the trio’s many lighthearted romps about the town square.

As Tybalt, Temur Suluashvili was particularly compelling in his fight scene with Hohenstein’s Romeo as the two thrashed, kicked and leapt at one another. Friar Lawrence, danced by Dylan Gutierrez, functioned as both priest and peacemaker, resulting in a more danceable part than is usually seen.

The nurse’s role was replaced by the twin characters of Juliet’s friends. Pastor created delightful choreography for two girls who are often partnered by Mercutio and Benvolio and who accompany Juliet to her secret wedding. Danced charmingly by Amanda Assucena and Jeraldine Mendoza, they added a touch of verisimilitude to the more contemporary settings, adding, to my mind, an Elena Ferrante-like touch to a coming of age (and death) story.

But any ballet of Romeo and Juliet rests on the shoulders of its star-crossed lovers. In Hohenstein and Rocas, Pastor had an ideal couple. Hohenstein was a marvelous partner, supporting, in understated fashion, his Juliet. It was this understated elegance that conveyed his love and admiration for Juliet and his desire to make peace between the raging families. Rocas, a beautiful, expressive dancer, walked just the right line in her portrayal of Juliet – youthful zest and innocence married with the steely resolve of a more mature woman.

Conducted by Scott Speck, the orchestra of local Los Angeles musicians did justice to Prokofiev’s timeless score, which sounds as thrilling today as it most assuredly did in 1935 when it was written.

Jane Rosenberg

Print Friendly


Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews


Season Previews

  • NEW! English National Ballet Announces its 2018-19 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Cleveland Orchestra’s 2018-19 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Booking Open for Longborough Festival Opera 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Additional Tickets Now Available for Nevill Holt Opera’s Le nozze di Figaro __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder’s Four-Day Celebration of Art Song in April 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! World Premiere by Novaya Opera of Pushkin – The Opera in the Theatre in the Woods __________________________________
  • NEW! Dartington International Summer School & Festival’s 70th __________________________________
  • UPDATED! The Glyndebourne Opera Cup and Glyndebourne in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! LA Opera’s 2018/19 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Buxton Festival 2018 and its New CEO __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music at the Barbican in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Piccadilly Chamber Music Series in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera and More in Buenos Aires in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Gloucester Choral Society’s Hubert Parry’s Centenary Celebrations in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018 Lucerne Summer Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Contemporary Music from Manchester’s Psappha in 2017-18 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

  • NEW! Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella in Cinemas on 15 May with Live Q&A __________________________________
  • NEW! Newly Discovered Song by Alma Mahler to be Performed in Oxford and Newbury __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH ANDREA CARÈ AS HE RETURNS TO COVENT GARDEN AS DON JOSÉ __________________________________
  • NEW! Rafael de Acha Introduces Some of Cincinnati’s New Musical Entrepreneurs __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! ENB’s 2018 Emerging Dancer will be Chosen at the London Coliseum on 11 June __________________________________
  • NEW! Akram Khan’s Giselle for ENB Can be Seen in Cinemas from 25 April __________________________________
  • NEW! BARRY DOUGLAS IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • UPDATED! SOME OF OUR REVIEWERS CHOOSE THEIR ‘BEST OF 2017’ __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H