Romeo and Juliet by Italian choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti was created for his company Aterballetto in 2006, and has received international acclaim ever since. But what a strange bird it is. Exotic and sensual, yes, beautiful to behold, certainly, but the storytelling is vague and, even for a viewer who knows traditional versions of Prokofiev's ballet intimately, Bigonzetti's anti-chronological approach was not clear. Maybe it was unnecessary to call the ballet Romeo and Juliet at all, there are no parents, no friars, no daggers or bottles of poison. Why not simply present the evening as aspects of young love on the music of Sergei Prokofiev?
Nine couples – nine Romeos and nine Juliets – reveal youthful passion, frustration, anger and intimacy in various combinations of pas de deux and ensembles. These are wonderful dancers, strong and fearless, who throw themselves into every moment of the ballet.
The piece opens with the much talked about ‘gimmick' of dancing with one foot inserted in a motorcycle helmet. And dance they do: pirouettes, promenades, leaps and turns. Months of practising must have gone in to mastering this feat, and the effect is powerful. This is a Harley-Davidson helmet with a black visor not a jaunty Vespa number in bright colours, and the macho symbol is thrown around the stage like a rugby ball, or treated with caution like an undetonated bomb. This is male territory. When a Juliet tries one on the effect is softer, though the underlying strength and balance needed for it to work is palpable.
While an extraordinarily athletic and controlled dancer – beautifully lit by Carlo Cerri – does everything possible on his helmet, three couples emerge from the darkness on morgue tables. Here we are certainly at the end of Shakespeare's story. They are slowly animated, lit by projections which emerge them in a primordial swamp of light, and from here the ballet takes off. Girls flying through the air are suddenly halted as they hit into a male chest, impressively complex lifts are executed with nonchalance: this is contemporary dance at its highest level.
The high-tech scenery and costume elements are by Fabrizio Plessi. His scenes are more like art installations; there are few but they make a strong impact. The final scene has two 5-metre high blocks, separated by a led-screen waterfall, coming together bearing aloft a Romeo and a Juliet which presumably represents their first meeting.
Bigonzetti is a fine choreographer who intimately understands dancers' bodies. However, as a theatre animal, for this writer at least, he lacks the contrast in emotion (not in movement) which serves to highlight the serious dramatic moments. Shakespeare got those comic elements in so that we'd really be in pain when the tragedy hit, and some lightness in the choreography would make the shadows appear far darker.
The Aterballetto season at Milan's Piccolo Teatro continues with Absolutely Free and H+ from May 24, and finishes with Serata Stravinsky from May 31.
Tickets: platea €33, balconata €26 — Discounts with www.piccolocard.it
Booking and information: 848800304 — www.piccoloteatro.org
Photo: Romeo and Juliet – A. Anceschi e R. Cavalieri
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.