Richmond Ballet’s performance of Romeo & Juliet showed that the iconic Shakespeare play can still communicate a powerful message to audiences, even when the dialogue is replaced by dance.
Last month at the Dominion Energy Center, the Richmond Ballet, alongside the Richmond Symphony, premiered Romeo & Juliet for packed audiences that included fans of Shakespeare’s iconic play, the ballet version of the play, Sergei Prokofiev’s intense score, or all of the above. Richmond Ballet has performed this electric ballet before, but this was the first time that Khaiyom Khojaev and Sabrina Holland have played the titular roles for the company during each show. RVA Magazine was on the scene for the final show of the run, which took place on Sunday, February 20, to report back on the integrity of the source material and what you can expect when a play’s dialogue, known for its lofty declarations of love, is replaced solely with the language of bodies.
Before the curtain rose, the symphony delivered a overture to introduce the sensuality, tension, and recklessness embodied by this story of “star-crossed lovers.” The tension was visible from the moment the curtain rose, as the silk was spun between the feuding families of the Capulets and Montagues. Even the costuming portrayed the contrast between them, with the Montagues dressed in blue and the Capulets in red. If you are not familiar with the specifics of Romeo & Juliet, Romeo is completely in love with another woman at the beginning of the play, and it is devoted, loyal friends Mercutio and Benvolio that help him take his mind off the previous lady of his dreams and teach him that a good fencing match is a great way to release pent-up emotions.
Each fight scene was a choreographed battle in a four-count. Characters were killed in similar proportion to the deaths in the source material, though maybe in more dramatic fashion, since the only sounds were the symphony depicting the deaths of members of the families and the metal of their rapiers clanging along with the tempo of the score. The clamor and confusion of these scenes offered an impressive display of how intensely timed the actors’ movements as a troupe were. I would not know how to make this better, except if the dancers doubled as fencers in their free time.
On the opposite end of this physical spectrum is the love blossoming between Romeo and Juliet. The acts and scenes most identifiable with this play (Juliet calling out to Romeo from her balcony; their poisonous suicide; etc.) were just as recognizable without the famous dialogue most of us learned in high school English classes. The dancers’ first embrace and kiss upon the lips was breathtaking.
Richmond Ballet has shown that a play stripped of its dialogue is just as beautiful when the participants representing the characters feel the emotion, too. One particular character who is filled with anger and detestation is Tybalt, played by Ira White. His raw movements and agility in red left no doubt that he was enraged by the idea of a Montague being anywhere near a Capulet, regardless of the consequences his actions would draw from the Prince of Verona. Holland and Khojaev’s athleticism was incredible, yes, but it is White’s role as the antagonist that built on the tension first introduced by the symphony’s overture.
You can catch Richmond Ballet at their next series of performances at Studio Three, premiering on March 22 until March 27. Tickets are available now here.
Top Photo: Sabrina Holland and Khaiyom Khojaev in Romeo and Juliet by Malcolm Burn. Richmond Ballet. All Rights Reserved. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.