Expressing love without words

Juliet and Friar Lawrence dance together when Juliet is upset because of Romeo’s departure.   (credit: Courtesy of Mandy Wilson) Juliet and Friar Lawrence dance together when Juliet is upset because of Romeo’s departure. (credit: Courtesy of Mandy Wilson)

Imagine a world without words, a world where people communicate only through dance, where the elegant movements of the body alone express the overpowering love between two people and their wish to die together rather than live apart. This was the world created by the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in its Feb. 13 performance of Romeo et Juliette, a perfect fusion of elegant ballet and the epochal Shakespearean drama, Romeo and Juliet.

The show was performed at the Benedum Center in downtown Pittsburgh by performers who danced with great poise and confidence. The biggest pillar of the performance was the orchestra. The music matched the intensity of every scene — action scenes like when Tybalt (Alexandre Silva) and Mercutio (Daisuke Takeuchi) duel — were accompanied by loud, striking music, while the romantic scenes between Romeo (Christopher Rendall-Jackson) and Juliet (Erin Halloran) had slow, soothing music in the background. The music evoked empathy from the audience for each character, and it was an important and powerful element of the show.

The stage was set simply with white and black backgrounds. In most of the performance, the costumes were simple, too, causing the dancers’ movements and postures to stand out. A notable feature of the costumes was that they were color-coded. As the story’s premise focuses on the feud between two families, the Montagues and the Capulets were distinguished by the different shades they wore. The Capulets, except Juliet and her nurse (Ashley Wegmann), were dressed in shades of black, while the Montagues, wore light colors.

For the majority of the performance, Romeo was wearing a white suit, depicting him as a true and honest hero. Juliet wore a golden dress during the love scenes, hinting toward the happy and blissful state of her mind, and a gray dress during the scene of her death, reflecting her sorrow and dismal fate.

The love scenes between Romeo and Juliet were heart-rending. The famous balcony scene started with Juliet fantasizing about Romeo. Then Romeo entered the scene and was left so love-struck by the sight of her that he dropped his coat. Their subsequent dance made their love even more evident because their dance steps were choreographed in such a manner that one’s dance would have been incomplete without the other. Another romantic scene between Romeo and Juliet was when they spent time with each other one night. The scene portrayed a sequence that could be the experience of any couple, in which Romeo wants to kiss Juliet and she doesn’t allow it at first, and then, when Romeo is upset, Juliet comes and kisses him. Also, the way Romeo watches Juliet dance for a long period of time shows how much he is enraptured by her.

Another extraordinary scene in the performance was when two of the major characters of the play were killed. One was Mercutio, who was killed by Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, and the other was Tybalt himself. The beauty of this scene was that the two bodies were dragged across the stage in white drapes with their supporters walking along with the bodies. Another remarkable performance in this scene was the dance performed by Lady Capulet (Elysa Hotchkiss). She seemed to be totally tormented by seeing the death of her son, Tybalt, and her dance expresses her heartbroken state. First, she danced vigorously with rage, and gradually, it changed to a slower dance to mark her sad state. By the end of the scene, she seemed to be shattered and was dragged off the stage by a member of her family.

Comic relief was presented in two scenes. In one, Juliet’s nurse hilariously describes one of Juliet’s childhood stories by jumping and wailing like a baby, while in another Romeo’s friends mock Romeo in jest when they come to know that he has fallen in love. They make fun of Romeo by imitating him running to and fro to impress Juliet, proclaiming that he will be at Juliet’s beck and call from now on.

This is only the second dance troupe in the U.S. that has performed Romeo and Juliet in the form of a ballet, and they did a splendid job. From the nurse’s comedic act and the tragic deaths of the two young lovers to the powerful orchestral accompaniment and flawless dancing of the company, Romeo et Juliette proved that music and dance have the power to express more emotion than words ever can.