During opening night of L.A. Dance Project’s Romeo & Juliet Suite at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts this past Friday, I sat in my seat and listened to the variation of conversational intrigue from the audience around me. Some, unknowing what they were about to watch, still knew the ballet quite well in its conventional and classic suite, while others whispered, “this is a ballet, right?”. Romeo & Juliet, whether dance or cinema, proves to still stir up romanticism, intrigue, and judgment in all forms of theater goers alike.
Artistic Director and Choreographer, Benjamin Millepied, incorporated a cinematic live stream as well as theatrical production in his new worldwide showcase of these star-crossed lovers. The stage was set with a large red couch center stage, and a large projection screen hanging upstage covering the entire backdrop of the theater. The wings were open and without any curtain coverage, exposing all flood, lantern, and fresnel lighting, and thus also giving the audience the foreshadow exposure of truth and visibility.
As the ballet began, we were immediately introduced to the cinematic aspect Millepied incorporated throughout the performance. As the dancers moved from the mainstage to the wings and backstage areas, we became aware of Associate Artistic Director Sebastien Marcovici as steadicam operator, who followed main characters around with a film camera as it was projected to the screen in real time. I thought watching the performers in this vivid tableaux of cinematic choreography would distract, but in reality, it only made me more present. Like watching a movie, your concentration lies in the acts unfolding before you, and I found myself more invested in the little details of facial expression, gesture, and motif to inform me of the events. These are the nuances we detect in real life to read a room, and adding the camera to capture just that was an experience I’ve never felt before. Since the mainstage was outlined with large fluorescent lighting, there was a clear definition between the performance space in front of the audience and the “no man’s land” of backstage, where it seemed the true colors and intentions of the characters came out more often.
With brilliant music by Sergei Prokofiev, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Valery Gergiev, the dancers moved in the enthusiastic display a ballet requires. Mercutio, Romeo’s best and closest friend, was performed by Shu Kinouchi with such passion and zeal that I almost forgot he was human. Kinouchi truly impressed with his precision of not only the physical steps themselves, but with his passionate intention towards the role. I felt I knew where his thoughts were, his next moves, and where his loyalty lied. Having seen Kinouchi perform under various roles and choreographers in the past, I felt his effective use of the theatrical and cinematic magnitude was unmatched to any other on the stage that night. Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin and Romeo’s rival, was masterfully performed by Lorrin Brubaker. There was a sinister aspect, as there often is for the role of Tybalt, that was so cleverly accomplished onstage, that you believed in his plight of virtuosity. Brubaker truly shined offstage, where the audience got more of his personality as he creeped along the shadowy corridors. The real spectacle of Brubaker’s role as Tybalt was when he wasn’t moving; with chilling standstill looks, and motive to kill on the brain, Brubaker’s performance was a character study of real professionalism, and enjoyment.
While Millepied did not separate the ballet in traditional Act I, scene 5 sets, one of the heart wrenching performances of the evening was Act I, Scene 2 between Romeo and Juliet’s declaration of love for one another. Romeo, performed by David Adrian Freeland, Jr. and Juliet, performed by Mario Gonzalez were in perfect sync and style together. In keeping with the idea that true sentiments lie outside of the audience’s sight, Gonzalez and Freeland performed their incredible duet behind the scenes. As the camera followed them through the aisles of the theater, into the lobby, and out on one of the larger terraces of the Segerstrom Center, we were solely watching all movement on the projection screen from our seats inside the theater. To see a homosexual vs heterosexual version of this incredible love story was long overdue. Freeland and Gonzalez moved around one another with more grounded intensity than the wispy cat and mouse game usually represented by the ballet’s original choreography. The two men evoked such authentic performances with precision for their craft and exhaustive repertoire. The brilliance of Millepied’s Romeo & Juliet was the company’s ability to take a classic emotional story of love, rivalry, betrayal, and yearning and make it human in our world of increasingly deficit attention spans. Gonzalez and Freeland were representations of intimacy beyond the social constructs of labels and fabrications. The unique aspect of bringing this important love scene outside for the world to see was a strategic and bold statement that did not get overlooked. I found myself a little weepy, as the two performers kissed and ran down the lobby stairs all smiles and affection, proving once again that love knows no bounds…not even a physical set or production.
With creative collaborator Olivier Simola, beautiful costumes by Camille Assaf, and the immeasurable lighting and set design by François-Pierre Couture, Millepied’s Romeo & Juliet Suite impressed to distress and strip down the story to its most basic and important message; love conquers all, even in death.
For more information about L.A. Dance Project, please visit their website.
To learn more about the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, please visit their website.
Written by Grace Courvoisier for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: LA Dance Project – Cast of Benjamin Millepied’s Romeo and Juliet Suite – Photo by Julien Benhamou