Shakespeare in Ballet
By: Crystal Jalijali (IV-BS Management major in Legal Management)
There is just something that interests me with Shakespeare being incorporated in ballet. There have been several attempts since the 1990’s or maybe even earlier to stage several of Shakespeare’s plays such as As You Know It, The Tempest, Hamlet, and of course, Romeo & Juliet.
It is but intriguing to see how they manage to integrate ballet in Shakespeare or Shakespeare in ballet. Shakespeare is known for its language while ballet is known for its very technical dance choreography. What happens to Shakespeare when it loses its very essence, its language? How do they integrate Shakespeare in non-verbal arts?
To watch ballet inspired by Shakespeare, in my opinion, you need to have at least an understanding or idea of the text. To better appreciate each pointe, turn, and lifts, the audience must know where these are inspired.
Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet can be arguable the greatest love story of all time and is one of the top ten (10) greatest classical ballet of all time. Prokofiev in 1935 or 1936 composed Romeo and Juliet’s score inspired by the classic tragedy of young love. This music has inspired many choreographers throughout time to try to put their own interpretation of both the story and the music. It is considered to be classical ballet, as it has remained its basic structure no matter who the choreographer is. Take for example Romeo & Juliet’s balcony scene, one of the most famous scenes in Romeo and Juliet where Juliet says “O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name”. The audience must have an idea of the story to understand why such choreography or such music was intended for the scene. Romeo’s choreography is also very enthusiastic, much like a kid –this is, after all, how Romeo is seen in the text. And of course the Capulet, Juliet marked by her very graceful and very cautious moves.
See: Act II of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet 1966 “ Balcony Scene”. Rudolf Nureyev as Romeo and and Margot Fonteyn as Juliet.
See: Romeo and Juliet: The Music (NationalBalletCanada)
“It’s more like a film score so you have pieces of music that are meant to underscore the action. You take away the music and you don’t have the drama of the situation…”
See: Romeo and Juliet: The Choreography (NationalBalletCanada)
“…you have to know exactly what you’re saying story wise” (1:40) –Guillaume Cote, Romeo
The staging of Hamlet was an ambitious attempt in trying to render it as full-blooded. In an article of Michael Crabb about the National Ballet of Canada’s rendition of Hamlet described the stage design, “Her colour pallet is muted, favouring black, grey and various brown or rusty shades. Together with her sets, it seems a deliberate attempt to lift the action into a realm of metaphorical universality, outside specific time and place, but then in the second act, by far the stronger, out come the swords and we’re back to the specifics — albeit modified — of Shakespeare’s plot.” It is much like a play where not only are the lines, actors, dancers are important, but also the stage design that enhances each feeling, each movement.”
See: “Albert Schultz, Artistic Director of Soulpepper Theatre Company, discusses the joys and challenges of performing Shakespeare’s greatest and most complex character. Principal Dancer Piotr Stanczyk translate Shakespeare’s words into dance.” (NationalBalletCanada)
See: Choreographer Kevin O’Day talks about translating Hamlet into dance (NationalBalletCanada)
See: “Pricipal Dancers Guillaume Cote and Piotr Stanczyk talk about portraying the complex and fascinating character of Hamlet” (NationalBalletCanada)
See: Hamlet- The Music from Music Director and Principal Conductor David Briskin. (NationalBalletCanada)
Besides online videos, I have yet to see Shakespeare in ballet. I understand how they have incorporated Shakespeare though its design, choreography, and music but ballet is more than that, Shakespeare is more than that. I believe that it is the emotion that both ballet and Shakespeare bring that has made Shakespeare in Ballet truly succeed.