Stuttgart Ballet in John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet is simply revelatory. The artists are uniformly excellent. Shining a spotlight particularly on the tragedy of youthful carelessness, the characters are utterly relatable in today’s context. Alicia Amatriain as Juliet and Friedemann Vogel as Romeo illuminate the stage with youthful exuberance and emotional storytelling, the entire company always spontaneous. They bring an immediacy and liveness to us, that is pure ballet magic.
At the forefront of his character-focused ballet, is the tension between raw emotion and aristocratic expectation. Matched by glamorous gowns and raucous streetwear, the street, and the court are thrown in stark contrast. Precise little weight shifts next to wild flinging of limbs. Circus acts showing off, next to aristocratic pomp. Crank turned this up a volume, with his aristocrats parading around in the most wonderfully exaggerated epaulement I have ever seen. His comic touches are peppered throughout, even in the scenes of death. The lightness of spirit simply makes the gravity of the young lovers’ situation, even harder to bear. Above and beyond the beauty of classical ballet, is the richness of this human story and its implications for us today.
This classical interpretation of Shakespeare brings the play to life and illuminates aspects of Shakespeare’s social commentary. Cited as one of the best ballet versions of Romeo and Juliet, it bears all the hallmarks of classical precision and delicacy, made more exceptional by the breathtaking risks the artists take, especially in their pas de deux. At one point the audience gasps audibly as Juliet runs backward, leans and arches into nothingness, suspends in the air. Romeo catches her at absolutely the last moment. It is pure magic. It is genuinely the trust of young love. When Mercutio playfully duels with Tybalt but finds the time to snatch kisses with his gypsy lady, it is hilarious. And then he dies. Still flamboyantly flinging his hair, interspersed with contractions of pain. The rash, testosterone-driven aspect of this story shows up several times. In a brilliant mirroring, Juliet kneels before Friar Laurence in one scene, to be blessed. She later kneels before her father, who rejects her. In yet another scene, Friar Laurence kneels, and she seeks comfort from a loving father figure. Ironically, the man who offers her the acceptance and care she requests is the one who gives her the poison that ultimately causes three deaths. Poor young Juliet – all she wanted was to love who she loved.
Stuttgart Ballet brings us a dramatic romance, a social tragedy, sometimes a comedy of errors. The performers are explosive, lively, playful, vulnerable and completely believable even within the concept of wordless theatre.