Mariko Kida (Juliet) and Anthony Lomuljo (Romeo) in Juliet and Romeo, Royal Swedish Ballet (photo by Gert Weigelt)
In recent interviews Swedish choreographer Mats Ek has been saying that not only will he soon retire, but he will also withdraw his works from public performance. If that turns out to be the case, the Royal Swedish Ballet's U.S. tour of Ek's Juliet and Romeo, which opened last night at the Kennedy Center Opera House, will be one of the last chances to see his work. Ek is known for modernizing both story and steps in his ballets, and it is likely that balletomanes with expectations for Romeo and Juliet -- the famous Prokofiev score, the Russian classicism -- will be disappointed. For anyone not averse to seeing ballet characters drawn from people we might actually meet and who enjoys a story being told evocatively through movement without getting hung up on tradition, this is well worth seeing.
Mats Ek, Juliet and Romeo, Royal Swedish Ballet (C Major, 2014)
Ek places the action in a modern urban space, a city divided by walls, set pieces that look like corrugated metal and are moved around by the dancers (sets and costumes by Magdalena Åberg). Muted lighting (Linus Fellbom) and regular injections of fog create a smoky impression filled with shadows, and the stage wings, left open to the audience, enhance the sense of an industrial world. Romeo, danced with earnest strength and joy by Anthony Lomuljo, comes from the wrong side of the tracks and falls first for the severe Rosaline of Daria Ivanova, who does not even appear to notice him. Mariko Kida, who created this Juliet, is a bundle of energy, pixieish in stature and buoyant when she is paired with Lomuljo. In the first act, when her oppressive parents (Arsen Mehrabyan and Nadja Sellrup) try to pair her with the somewhat clueless Paris (Oscar Salomonsson), her gestures and stiffness make it clear that she is having none of it. In a memorable scene, Kida lies on the floor and her parents and nurse hold Paris horizontally above her, making the point of what her obligation is, but even prone she is like ice beneath him.
Sarah L. Kaufman, Royal Swedish Ballet offers an innovative ‘Juliet and Romeo’: One for today (Washington Post, June 2, 2016)
---, Mats Ek — the Swedish rebel choreographer who’s ‘allergic to pretty’ (Washington Post, May 27, 2016)
Laura Cappelle, Why Mats Ek is Retiring—and Taking his Ballets With Him (Dance Magazine, February 29, 2016)
---, Interview: Swedish choreographer Mats Ek (Financial Times, January 15, 2016)
Roslyn Sulcas, Mats Ek, the Swedish Choreographer, Says His Goodbye Isn’t Quite a Farewell (New York Times, January 12, 2016)
Luke Jennings, Mats Ek’s vivid spin on Shakespeare (The Guardian, September 27, 2014)
Sarah Crompton, Juliet & Romeo, Sadler's Wells, review: 'fluid and thrilling' (The Telegraph, September 25, 2014)
Ek would probably have done well to eliminate the role of Peter, danced capably by Jörgen Stövind, whose costume made him too easily confused with Romeo and who does not add anything to the story. The other part of the ballet that falls short is the ending, tied up quickly in a short second act, as Juliet's death is caused directly by her father's violent anger and Romeo takes his own life in despair. After so much promise in how the characters are delineated, the tragedy of the ending did not satisfy, visually or musically.
In some ways, Ek should have just stuck with the Prokofiev score, as his conception of the Capulets, among other facets, is drawn largely from Lavrovsky's choreography for that ballet. For example, Tybalt openly dances with Juliet's mother, who mourns his death just a little too emotionally for a mere aunt. In the jagged court dance scene in the Capulet home, it is hard not to imagine Prokofiev's Dance of the Knights instead of the tamer Tchaikovsky used here. The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, fresh from their superlative performances in Wagner's Ring Cycle, were just as excellent in this patchwork, less worthy score, under the capable hands of conductor Eva Ollikainen. Pianist Bengt-Åke Lundin admirably tailored the solo part of the first piano concerto to the needs of the dancers on stage, the work's famous opening-chord motif serving for the awkward leg kicks of the hapless and ineffective Prince (Andrey Leonovitch) of this divided city.
This performance by the Royal Swedish Ballet will run through June 4, at the Kennedy Center Opera House. Some seats in the orchestra section have been reduced to $49.