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Raymond Tuttle
Fanfare, September 2010

This is a radical rethinking of Prokofiev’s ballet by choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti and by set and costume designer Fabrizio Plessi. Acknowledging both the familiarity and the universality of Shakespeare’s/Prokofiev’s young lovers, Bigonzetti and Plessi have done away not just with all other characters but with the plot as well. In other words, the dancers in Compagnia Aterbaletto are all Romeos and all Juliets. While love remains, this is far from a romantic reinterpretation. Death plays an omnipresent role, and violence is a constant presence. All this is explained in a 12-minute documentary that precedes the performance.

The ballet is given a futuristic look through Plessi’s use of articles of protective equipment used by motorcyclists, including knee, elbow, and shoulder pads. One of the big innovations here is the occasional use of a motorcycle helmet—not on dancers’ heads, but on one foot, as a kind of misshapen, hobbling boot. A piece of protective equipment thereby becomes anti-protective, and makes every step precarious. This might sound silly, but in practice it is rather effective, particularly as a symbol of risk-taking and even death-seeking behavior. Other symbols used in this production are fiery lava, wind (represented by giant turbines, in which one pair of dancers acts out a steamy and acrobatic love scene), and, at the end, stylized mountains and water. This, then, is a cold, oppressive Romeo and Juliet with big ideas, a lot of sweat and testosterone, and very little innocence. As such, it cannot be recommended as a basic library version. However, for those who like this ballet and who are open to an alternative approach, it has much to offer.

Although there are many duets and solos, this is an egalitarian ensemble performance, and there are no weak links. The dancing owes more to gymnastics than to the grace of classical ballet, but it is powerfully expressive, and often viscerally exciting. Even though this is a live performance, the cameras often move very close to the dancers, caressing their flesh and their faces. The dancers’ expressions thereby become part of the performance as well, and their physical beauty, so intimately recorded, makes the dancing seem more human than it probably did to members of the German audience.

Prokofiev’s score has been cut and reordered, so again, purists beware: This is not the disc to acquire if your first concern is the music. Conductor Bruno Moretti emphasizes the score’s foreboding and violence, not its sweet lyricism. The orchestra is serviceable but not of the first rank. The recording engineers have captured it vividly, and the widescreen videography is excellent too. This DVD was shot and edited not as a souvenir of a live performance but with television audiences in mind, and I feel that was the right decision to make, given the radicalism of Bigonzetti’s and Plessi’s concept.

If Prokofiev’s ballet were to be combined with Rollerball, the result might be very similar to this provocative production.

Ballet Review, June 2010

A very different approach to the score comes from the Italian choreographer Mario Bigonzetti. His eighty-eight-minute version, made for Aterballeto in 2006, uses only parts of it and offers nine pairs of Romeos and Juliets— separately, in twos, or all nine at once. Costumes are briefs and bras, plus biker gear for crowd scenes. The ballet opens in the tomb, while the balcony scene (which starts in silence) takes place in a giant fan or squirrel cage, and so on. Nothing is literal. The camera often focuses on physical details, savoring the attractive dancers, so that the choreography becomes unclear at times. A twelve-minute introduction by Bigonzetti, the designer, and the musical director/arranger describing their concept and symbolism comes first, as if not trusting us to make up our own minds.

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