Launching its 2016-2017 season with the return of “Romeo & Juliet,” the Joffrey Ballet presents the classic tale in a three-act neoclassical ballet. The contemporary take on Shakespeare takes place during the turmoil of the 20th century and is expertly executed from a number of different standpoints.
Housed in the lavish, ornamented Auditorium Theatre at Roosevelt University (50 E. Congress Pkwy.), the ballet opens with a multimedia backdrop portraying different political eras of hardship in 20th century Italy that the performance encompasses.
Act I takes place in Italy during the rise of fascism in the 1930s. The opening scene illustrates the tensions among classes. Upper-class conservatives dance with stern, precise movements countered by the free-spirited and flowing movements of dancers depicting the lower-middle class. Here, and throughout most of the show, the dancers wear street clothes. When the show opens, members of the company intermingle in front of the backdrop of a street in Italy, so when synchronized and complex ballet combinations begin, it’s a pleasant surprise.
Tensions between classes seem most prevalent in this act, due in part to the contrast among the dancers’ costumes. Dancers representing the upper-middle class wear tight, black outfits, while dancers portraying the lower class are fitted in loose street clothes. As the classes have a dance off, the male lower-class dancers take center stage with an air of confidence and cynicism that warrants comparison to the mood presented in Frankie Valli’s “Jersey Boys.”
Act II seamlessly transitions into the 1950s and the rise of the Red Brigade. In the height of political tensions, the back-and-forth love affair between Romeo and Juliet prevails. 1950s hoop skirts and classic cars set the mood. Dancers in the opening scene have high energy with impressive and seemingly effortless combinations, making for fast-paced, visually appealing scenes. Romeo and Juliet are weaved among the madness, creating a cat-and-dog dynamic. Their romance doesn’t get too hot and heavy until the end of the performance.
The final act depicts 1990s social divisions that conclude with the tragic fate of Romeo and Juliet. Real-life couple Dylan Gutierrez and Jeraldine Mendoza dance the lead roles of Romeo and Juliet with radiating chemistry expressed through movement. The final and most famous scene of Shakespeare’s masterpiece is told in a high-stakes manner. Despite audiences already knowing the lovers’ fate, viewers of the performance reacted with gasps and attentiveness before giving a standing ovation without hesitation when the curtain closed.
This modern approach to a classic tale is told with the most professional forms of acting and ballet performance. Chicago Philharmonic accompanies the show live with a somber yet beautifully vibrant score that is fitting for the performance.
“Romeo & Juliet” runs until Oct. 23. Tickets range from $34-$174 and are available at Joffrey Ballet’s official box office and at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. For more information on the Joffrey Ballet and its programs and performance schedule, visit joffrey.org.