Jackie McGlone's Review
‘A long time ago, I also dance,’ he says softly, taking Martin’s small face in his hands to adjust the angle of her swan-like neck and sloping shoulders. ‘Believe me, moments of silence and stillness are the most expressive, the most important. It is the way we build the character.’
Sitting in on rehearsals for Romeo and Juliet with Pastor, who is part of the resident creative team at Dutch National Ballet, and his dancers is rather like joining an artistic United Nations. He is Polish, his Juliets are French, English and Japanese, while their athletic Romeos are Italian, English and Australian.
And, here they all are, in Glasgow, translating an iconic love story by an English playwright, with the aid of a Dutch dramaturg, Willem Bruls, into the universal language of dance.
But with a world-class choreographer, such as Pastor, who needs words, even William Shakespeare’s? For, when Martin and her Romeo, Erik Cavallari, dance rapturously together in the Capulets’ ballroom, it is like watching the beautiful sonnet they exchange on first meeting brought to eloquent, erotic life.
‘This is an important moment,’ Pastor tells the couple. ‘You are drawn together like a magnet. Remember, you saw each other before but this is the first time you are alone together. It’s like ice melting.’
Ask Pastor why, as a choreographer, he wants to engage with Shakespeare, and he tells you it is the language and the story the playwright tells, despite the fact that the words are not there in ballet. Anyone who loves literature is ardent about Shakespeare, explains Bruls. The enchanting, passionate, tragic tale of a pair of star-crossed lovers and their feuding families never fails to move, so Pastor’s ballet will remain true to the play, which Pastor believes is so much more than a family tragedy, filled with nightmares and dreams and the most intense emotional truths, all of which can be conjured magically through the medium of dance.
Nonetheless, with the aid of Bruls’s dramatic expertise, Pastor is imposing his own will upon Will, just as other great choreographers, such as John Cranko and Kenneth MacMillan have done and, of course, film-makers from Franco Zeffirelli to Baz Luhrmann, not to mention Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim in their magnificent musical, West Side Story, dynamically choreographed by Jerome Robbins.
All of these electrifying versions took liberties, some of them more cavalier than others, with Shakespeare’s story, just as Pastor is skilfully filtering the story of the doomed young lovers through his unique imagination. Which means, he reveals, with an explosive laugh, there will be no Nurse in his ballet, nor will there be the character of Paris, the aristocrat whom Juliet’s father insists she must marry.
No Nurse? No ‘county’ Paris? Wiil purists be shocked? ‘I was!’ exclaims Pastor, recalling how, when Bruls suggested such a radical reading of the play, he threw up his hands in horror. Now, though, he believes it makes perfect sense. ‘I didn’t want to have this rude, old woman, with the big boobs and maybe the high heels, coming on to do a comic turn.
Nanny does not move the action along, apart from delivering messages.
‘As for Paris, we have half a dozen Parises. When Juliet goes to the party at the beginning of the ballet, she is surrounded by young men, prospective suitors. I want to show that Juliet’s father, just like the father of Anne Boleyn and her sister, Mary, in the film The Other Boleyn Girl, is selling her off to the highest bidder, pushing her into the bed of the wealthiest man. In other words, making an arranged marriage.’
The cruelty of Lord Capulet’s heartless action gives Pastor’s vision of the play added poignancy since he has also dispensed with the authority figure of the Prince of Verona. Instead, Friar Laurence has a much more pivotal role in his production, which he has set in the 20th century. As the story unfolds through three dramatic acts, time moves on inexorably.
The story begins in black-and-white in a metropolis, somewhere in Italy.
With the aid of back projection of film of First World War trenches, Pastor shows that we are in a world torn apart by conflict and carnage.
The second act moves to the sepia-coloured 1950s, in the wake of Mussolini’s Fascist dictatorship. Finally, in the third act we are in today’s Kosovo, perhaps. Certainly, this is a land dominated by the eerie blue light of the televison cameras that report 24/7 from the frontline of global wars.
It is Pastor’s intention to show that the bloody feud that divides the Montagues and the Capulets is eternal. ‘We never find out what has driven the two families apart -- it may be political differences, or religious bigotry, or ethnic hatred. Whatever it is, it is passed from generation to generation, almost like Greek tragedy. Parents pass their divisive beliefs on to their children and so on,’ says Pastor, adding that his ballet will, however, never lose sight of the fact that Romeo and Juliet is a tender love story. Sadly, it’s a hate story, too.
Back in the rehearsal room, Pastor and his Romeos and Juliets are working on the bedroom scene, with the newly-wed Juliet waking to find her husband preparing for banishment after killing her kinsman, Tybalt.
The dancers perform a blissful pas de deux, exploiting Pastor’s ability to create sexy, lyrical pairwork. As Romeo looks down on his hands, slowly realising they are steeped in blood, Juliet takes them in her hands and washes them clean, signifying that she has forgiven him.
‘This is such an important moment, perhaps the most important of this ballet,’ says Pastor. Then the young lovers dance together again -- and part. Never has parting been such sweet sorrow. It’s a moment that pierces the heart, just as Juliet’s will puncture hers with her lover’s dagger.
Jackie McGlone is a journalist and feature writer.