The plot twist on the streets of Mantua, in Act 5 Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s ROMEO AND JULIET, has forever been the tragedy’s mark. Since its time, until now, audiences still gasp and sigh when the plodding Friar John missed the despairing lad that had just defied the stars. We know, with little hope by then, that this is a tragedy; that “Romeo, and his Juliet” are doomed to fall. However, many modern critics have been baffled by Romeo’s pathetic circumstance. Missing an important note, from such an important errand is arguably uncalled for, if not deconstructive.
But Paul Vasterling’s ROMEO AND JULIET dismisses just that, and it still works perfectly well. Here, we do not have the impassive Friar John. Here, we just had the news of Juliet’s (fake) death, and it is enough to have the fleeing Romeo rush to the graves. A conservative Shakespeare scholar might raise an eyebrow, but he can not deny that it’s much more believable, inconvenient and less contrived. Vasterling’s re-telling of this timeless romance/tragedie proves that Shakespeare’s story have stood the test of time and can still gloriously pierce as it did when it first opened. Above all, Vasterling’s presentation of this romance (through music and dance) equals the passion of its original work and offers a fresh retelling of a familiar poetry through grace, precision and strength.
In the city of Verona, a long-standing hatred between the Capulets and the Montagues erupts into new violence, and citizens stain their hands with the blood of their fellow citizens. Romeo and Juliet, the two unlucky young people of these enemy families, become lovers and commit suicide. Their unfortunate deaths put an end to their parents’ feud. For the next two hours and a half in a ballet, we witness the story of their doomed love and their parents’ anger, which nothing but the children’s deaths could stop.
Ballet Manila’s From Page To Stage turns another leaf to yet another ambitious production and delivers ravingly. With live orchestration by the Manila Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Alexander Vikulov, this ballet tops everything that I’ve seen so far from the company. To say that it is exhilarating, bracing, and ultimately powerful is an understatement. Worthy to mention is Act 1, Scene 4’s Grand Capulet’s Ball. Here, the corp de ballet delivers a breathtaking number to establish the Capulet’s status and sound. It is festive, contemporary (at times) and creatively visual. And did I mention how great the sword-fighting scenes are? It’s my first time to see almost-authentic, edge-of-the-seat sword-fighting scenes on live theater; and it’s funny that I first see it on a ballet. Now I can say that fencing, as a sport, really is – indeed – a dance-fight more than anything else. Its grace and form gives a breathtaking visual delight, be it in a game or on the stage. So yes, on its opening night, BM has proven, regardless of form, structure and sound, that Shakespeare’s story of these “star-crossed lovers” is timeless and ever-piercing.
Recent Asian Grand Prix winner, Ms. Katherine Barkman delivers a Juliet as lovable as the carefree maiden that we know. However, this time, Barkman, offers a reinterpretation of this central character with astonishing grace and fluidity. Through her charm, she gives the Juliet that we adore. No wonder Romeo fell in love. Rudy de Dios is excellent as the love-sick Romeo. He is lovable, light and passionately luminous. De Dios delivers quite an exceptional performance as Shakespeare’s male protagonist. His pas de deux with Mercutio’s Gypsy (played so beautifully by Pia Dames) is just perfect.Despite Vasterling’s challenging combinations and sequences, de Dios delivers so wonderfully. In him, we see the classic character that has tried to endure generations of violence and feud. Near the final scene when Romeo finds Juliet’s body in the tomb, he dances with her lifeless corpse to unspeakable despair that it trembles across the rows of the Aliw. As Vasterling orchestrates soliloquy-like dance interpretation of its original lyrical form, de Dios captures the same depth of Shakespearean loss and grief, to which (we know) there’s no other way but the path to a tragic end.
This is the first time I cried in the ballet.
Worthy to mention (of course) is Lisa Macuja-Elizalde‘s return to the Aliw Theater stage. She is Lady Capulet all the way! She brims with what literary scholars blame such character with: and that’s Lady Capulet’s silent (or screaming, if you may) Oedipal relationship with her favorite nephew, Tybalt. As the maternal character, Macuja-Elizalde sways like a pendulum from the archetypal Good Mother to the Terrible Mother, which I think is what Shakespeare really wanted to establish when he first wrote this material. Her wailing on Tybalt’s lifeless body, as well as on Juliet’s stoned sleep, is something to look forward to. Though soundless (as traditional ballet requires), Macuja-Elizalde’s presence echoes so painfully that I can’t help but cry. I swear – that’s one great scene that I will remember for a long, long time.
Nonoy Froilan as Lord Capulet, graces the Aliw Theater stage with amazing gusto and undeniable power. I heard it’s been a while since Froilan and Macuja-Elizalde had danced together, and it is no wonder why the knowing audience applaud when they first entered. This is my first time to see Froilan in the ballet. Though I’ve seen him in Virgin Labfest’s HINTAYAN NG LANGIT, the ballet is still a kingdom where he owns the crown. Now I know why. Now I know why the people in Aliw clap when he enters the first time. Froilan as the towering Lord Capulet is exactly how Shakespeare created this character, be it in the ballet or not. Gets?
Worthy to note, too, is the dashing Mark Sumaylo as Paris. Vasterling’s take on the character is quite refresing, but I’m not spoiling it here. It’s for you to find out. Sumaylo’s Paris is still as lovable, quiet and accepting; yet could be violent and defensive in the next. Here Vasterling argues that such character can have another dimension; something quite modern, realistic and familiar. Romeo Peralta‘s Tybalt is gravitating, gripping and gorgeous as the violent Capulet-cousin that we know. I have personally been interested with this character for his temper and passion, and Peralta’s presence resounds this interest so darkly, yet graciously. Gerardo Francisco as Mercutio is top-notch! Period. No arguments, and I know you’d agree. As the archetypal Trickster for the central Romeo-character, Francisco delivers an astounding performance, and gives this character a fresh new look that gravitates an encouraging focus and study. I love you na, Gerardo!
As Vasterling presents a visual re-telling of this age-old tale of the two doomed lovers, we are but patient eyes* to a visual symphony of magical synchrony and poetic grace. With its new take on characterizations and twists, this ballet wonderously delivers a more relevant story for this generation. And as they dance Vasterling’s amazing choreography, Ballet Manila has transformed so beautifully this time by still making us cry, love, hope and forgive.
And they triumph. They triumph!
*Shakespeare described his audiences during his time as people with “patient ears”