Romeo and Juliet
The rebirth of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in Kenneth Macmillan’s ballet version of this classic love story shows how ideas are expressed differently by poetry and movement. Comparing the two pieces helps us appreciate the beauty of both art forms. Emotions can be very strongly portrayed in a ballet; the physicality and pureness of a body’s movement can present abstract ideas in a more human and touching way than in words. On the other hand, poetry engages our creativity and shows abstract ideas by transferring complex thoughts and pictures into our heads. In the ballet, a scene taking place in Juliet’s bedroom incorporates many events including what would have been Act 4 Scene 1 in the play. These scenes show the varying interpretations of this rich work and reveal the strengths of both the drama and the ballet.
Juliet’s refusal to marry Paris in what was originally Friar Lawrence’s cell is powerfully expressed in a pas de deux that portrays her emotions very clearly by using her whole body. Movement magnifies her expression; she shows rather than speaks to Paris that she will not marry him; while music and setting enhance the scene. In the script, she politely hints using double entendre to Paris that she will not marry, whereas in the pas deux she is very obviously showing her attitude towards marriage by keeping a soulless facial expression and her body rigid throughout the dance. The exact choreography is repeated from Juliet’s charming first meeting with Paris but performed with very different quality and intention, which reminds us of the change that occurred when Juliet met Romeo. Prokofiev’s beautiful music can be interpreted as a love theme, but as Juliet is unwillingly continuing the dance, the music becomes more dramatic and makes the scene more frantic. Setting this dance in Juliet’s bedroom in front of her parents also adds tension to this scene. In conclusion, this pas de deux expresses Juliet’s act of defiance and emotions in a much bigger way than words through body language.
Capulet’s anger is thoroughly expressed through words in a way that movement cannot. The scene is full of ideas which not only advances the plot; but reveals attitude and creates imagery. The vocabulary, phrasing, and punctuation that are presented by voice show his absolute rage at hearing the news:
How, how, how how, chopt-logic? What is this?
‘Proud’, and ‘I thank you’, and ‘I thank you not’,
And yet ‘not proud’, mistress minion you?
Thank me no thankings, nor proud me no prouds,
But fettle your fine joints ‘gainst Thursday next,
To go with Paris to Saint Peter’s Church,
Or I will drag thee on a hurdle thither.
Out, you green sickness carrion! Out, you baggage!
You tallow face! (3. 1. 149-157)
Lord Capulet’s mocking and insults are so flustered that his anger can look comical, which plays with the feel of the scene; however, it is clear that Juliet has a very serious problem. His reaction towards her refusal reveals the importance of marriage in the renaissance society; it was based on social status, not love. His harsh words paint grave images of Juliet on the streets or being “dragged… on a hurdle”; creating a glimpse of a possible future. Through movement, Capulet’s rage is difficult to express because his speech is effective through our own mind’s thoughts and pictures. For example, the individual words in the insults “green sickness carrion” and “tallow face” cannot be expressed in a ballet, while the idea of his disgust can. In the ballet, Lord Capulet acts coldly towards his daughter and then leaves. His act of abandonment is fast and dramatic, but does not show his thoughts and character in the way that words do.
The last farewell is expressed effectively through both movement and poetry. Both forms reflect on the passion of their love and their desperate situation while enriching each other by their strengths. Romeo and Juliet’s pas de deux is visually brilliant; dynamic lifts and beautiful steps that freely travel the stage show their young love. Again, as the music grows stronger, the choreography gets bigger; increasing the intensity of their movements and portraying a growing passion and sadness. Their conversation in the script comparing the lark and the nightingale again shows their love and reluctance to part, while also showing a playful side in their argument. Juliet insists that it is still night, so Romeo plays along, “Let me be tame, let me be put to death… I’ll say yon grey is not the morning’s eye, ‘Tis but the pale reflex of Cynthia’s brow…” (3.5. 17-20) There is imagery and slight sarcasm to his words that lightens the mood temporarily; however, his words also advance the script in a darker direction. In comparison to their balcony pas de deux in Act 2 Scene 2, this one, taking place in the bedroom, is more dramatic; which expresses their longing to stay together in the changing situation and their growth in maturity. The script also shows these changes when the mood turns urgent as Juliet realizes the time of day and later states, “Methinks I see thee now, thou art so low, as one dead in the bottom of a tomb…” (3.5.55-56) which again shows the struggle of their love and brings their sadness further into the future. Both the ballet and the script strongly express Romeo and Juliet’s passion and misfortune; and present the light and darker feelings of this scene.
In conclusion, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is expressed beautifully by both movement and poetry. They portray ideas differently; one through the body, and one through the voice; but both express this loved story like the masterpiece that it is.
Published from March 14, 2011.
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