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Romeo and Juliet by Bridget Breiner’s company “Ballett im Revier”

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Bridget Breiner has led „Ballett im Revier” in Gelsenkirchen since 2012. It’s a small company, comprising around 15 dancers. And yet, she has taken on the challenge of creating a version of Romeo & Juliet to Prokofiev’s music. The work was premiered in February 2018, and I was lucky to see the company on tour just north of Stuttgart on Sunday night.

It’s a small cast, in line with the size of the company … e.g., there is no Benvolio, no Count of Verona, the street and fight scenes are reduced in numbers, and some dancers perform more than one role. It works despite the reduction in numbers. A role that Breiner has added - in comparison with MacMillan's version - is that of the chorus (Bridgett Zehr). Dressed in black leather, the chorus is reminiscent of the chorus in Shakespeare’s work, providing introduction and commentary. Comments prior to the start of each Act are also given by brief audio recordings of key verses e.g., of parts of the Prologue. These are read in multiple languages, making the story applicable to no matter which place in the world. The choreography follows the traditional story line with its three Acts, simplifying events here and there to account for the smaller cast size. Female dancers are on pointe. Specifically, Lady Capulet stands on pointe as and when she wants to emphasise her power over Juliet (Francesca Berruto).

As for the costumes, the colour black is absolutely dominating, creating a sombre atmosphere right from the start. In fact, death is ubiquitous. Street fighters in Act 1 wear black costumes and masks. Romeo (Carlos Contreras) and Mercutio (Louiz Rodrigues) wear white masks at the ball at the Capulets’ house that look like death masks. At one point, a tall sculpture of a Grim Reaper is pulled across stage. The introductory reading of parts of the Prologue and the omnipresence of notions of death make it clear from the start how events will end.

The scenography is simple and effective. Several sets of tall mobile wooden frames are used to depict timbered houses, windows, doorways, etc. in ever-changing configurations. They allow the audience to see what is happening within as well as in front of such a house. Fights are done with wooden sticks, and both Juliet and Romeo stab themselves with – the same - stick. A long cloth train is used to bring Juliet and Paris (Daniel Castillo) together. Later, Lord Capulet halfway strangles Juliet as he puts the train around her neck as part of one of his final attempts to make Juliet agree to marry Paris … yet she simply removes the train from around her neck.

Act 3 has a few alterations. There are no friends of Juliet in the cast, and so the dance of Juliet’s friends before she is found presumed dead does not exist. The priest does not die, the letter is simply taken off him, and so he joins the Capulets in their mourning at Juliet’s grave. When Juliet wakes up after Romeo has stabbed himself in desperation, she sees Romeo immediately rather than exploring the crypt first before discovering him. In ending her own life, she uses the same wooden stick that Romeo used. So the final events are faster, and this made the tragic end even more compelling for me.

I found it fascinating to see how much can be achieved by such a small company and look forward to seeing more of Breiner’s works.

Link to pictures and a short video extract of the work https://musiktheater-im-revier.de/#!/de/performance/2017-18/romeo-und-julia/



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Duck, my thanks also for the review.  The essence of R&J involves a handful of characters, so it's no surprise that a successful version of the story can be portrayed by a small company.  Cathy Marston did it back in 2009 (inverting the title to J&R, by the way), whilst AD in Bern, with just 11 dancers, and I'm sure there must have been others elsewhere.





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