The Soraya Center for the Performing Arts and Thor Steingraber, Executive Director, gifted their audience on Saturday, February 29 and Sunday, March 1, 2020 with Vancouver’s premier dance company, Ballet B.C.  Their Romeo and Juliet unfolded brilliantly, unlike any other version seen in recent times, if ever.  Given full reign to delve and change the perspective, Ballet BC’s visionary Artistic Director Emily Molnar wanted to test boundaries.  She bequeathed to the genius, Nederlands Dans Theater’s (NDT), Medhi Walerski, the opportunity to fully conceive, choreograph and design the costumes in realizing his vision of this time tested story. His understanding of sound and silence, movement and stillness, light and dark, with his willingness to allow each dancer to find depth in their presence onstage, made this an unparalleled experience.

Medhi Waleski - Photo by Rahi Rezvani

Medhi Waleski – Photo by Rahi Rezvani

As the curtain rises, a deadly silent group of 30 humans in white, grey and black, stand in stillness against three towering obelisk forms. Then the disquieting opening chords of Sergei Prokofiev’s incomparable “Romeo and Juliet” foretells this tragic tale.   Without apology, looking outward, it is clear each individual is a character in this story. Then one-by-one they begin weaving the tale with fugue-like patterns of movement.  They imbue each character with individual and complex dynamics: the ferocity of love, hate, ritual, revenge, and even humor, stated and restated.

Walerski’s stunning re-envisioning of this fateful tale tears open raw feelings, pulls them into the now and shamelessly makes Art. His bold honesty and willingness to go deeply into the psyche, the soul of the characters, with Ballet BC’s truly technically boundless and beautiful dancers, make the audience hold their collective breath.

The exposition unfolds with Dex Van Ter Meij’s lilting and passionate portrayal of the young Romeo countering his playful cousin Benvolio (Chase Buntrock) and friend and prankster Mercutio played with impish abandon by Zenon Zubyk in their driving street play with the town-folk.

And countering that, in the privacy of her boudoir, the captivating and wistful Juliet, played by Kirsten Wicklund, affectionately goads her devoted Nurse, in a loving portrayal by Alexis Fletcher.  The icy haughtiness of Juliet’s Capulet Mother (Makaila Wallace) dressed in high necked black velvet and Father Capulet (Sylvain Senez) in black paneled suit, retaliates against the light hearted banter of Juliet and her Nurse, to introduce the Capulet’s preferred suitor, Paris (Adrian De Leeuw).  Their intentions are clear for their daughter, not only for the Ball that night, but for life.  Juliet takes shelter behind her cousin Tybalt, who is entrusted with her security.

Artists of Ballet BC - Photo by Luis Luque/Luque Photography

Artists of Ballet BC – Photo by Luis Luque/Luque Photography

The Ball then becomes a chilling statement of the Capulets in Dance of the Knight’s with its grandeur and power. The haughty guest’s contemptuous silent laughter so brilliantly reveals the underbelly of position and beau monde.  The invasion of the masked Montague friends adds lightness, with a burlesque of unique, brazen and distracting movements by Mercutio.  Shaking of shoulders and torso, provokes a daring challenge to the leopard-like Tybalt (Jordan Lang) who descends into a near hissing serpentine attack.  This embroils the young smitten Romeo and Juliet, whose time has disappeared to the unintended consequences of future foreboding.

Artists of Ballet BC in "Romeo + Juliet" - Photo by Luis Luque/Luque Photography

Artists of Ballet BC in “Romeo + Juliet” – Photo by Luis Luque/Luque Photography

The Balcony scene is a breathless foreplay that grows innocently and fiercely with each moment, only ending with the coming dawn.  The coupling is so exquisitely presented and constructed as to evoke deep personal emotions which come without fanfare.

The stunning death of Mercutio in the next scene, is expressed against disbelief that such a thing could happen to someone who feigned his own demise as a frolic.  His ending becomes a kind of Christ-like sacrifice and prediction of what’s to come.  And come it does, in the Second Act, with the compassionate Friar Laurence’s (Peter Smida) foiled plan and the death of our lovers.

Emily Chessa and the Artists of Ballet BC in "Romeo + Juliet" - photo©Michael Slobodian

Emily Chessa and the Artists of Ballet BC in “Romeo + Juliet” – photo©Michael Slobodian

My only regret, is that Ballet BC only had a run of two days, not enough time to tell all that if this is not seen, it will be a missed opportunity of a life-time.   My hope is that, they come back to grace the stages of Los Angeles, and share their art with us all, again and again. Thank you Ballet BC, Soraya Center for the Performing Arts and Thor Steingraber. And congratulations to Emily Molnar, in her new position as Artistic Director of Nederlands Dans Theater.

Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle, March 6, 2020.

To learn more about Ballet BC, click here.

To visit the The Soraya Center for the Performing Arts website, click here.

Featured image: Artists of Ballet BC in Romeo + Juliet by Medhi Walerski – Photo by Luis Luque/Luque Photography