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Romeo & Juliet – The National Ballet Theatre of Odessa | Harris Theater, January 19th, 2020

3 out of 4 stars
(Originally published on Chicago Stage Standard)

The National Ballet Theatre of Odessa made two stops in Chicagoland this month with 55 of Ukraine’s top performers to present “Romeo & Juliet” and “Swan Lake”. “Romeo & Juliet” was performed at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance on Sunday, Jan 19th, 2020. Based on the classic tragic tale by William Shakespeare, a pair of star-crossed lovers defy their feuding families’ wishes that end in their untimely deaths. The ballet is performed in two-acts and set to the music of composer Sergei Prokofiev.

I would particularly recommend this type of theatrical ballet for those not keen on ambiguous dance alone. Adding the dramatic elements into the choreography with bold body language, the audience has an easier time following the plot. Michael Lavrovsky does a wonderful job at combining technical dance and emotive movement into his choreography. Expressive eye contact and acting from the dancers adds a layer of intimacy into the performance. The principal dancers were Olena Dobrianska as “Juliet” and Sergii Dotsenko as “Romeo.” Dobrianska really shined with her technique and attention to detail in her performance with each delicate arc and graceful extension. Dotsenko complimented Dobrianska well within their solos in the second act and really found their stride in their movement together including lifts and holds.

The drama between the Mercutio and Tybalt was excellent! Each dancer possesses strong footwork and dynamic technical movements during their fight scene. I was impressed by each of their ability to maintain the hyper-dramatic acting while also performing with foil swords. The choice in costuming was classical and based in medieval style clothing. Mercutio’s black short caplet with sparkles at the bottom was a touch of whimsy that I felt really spoke to his character. The key personality trait of someone above the feud and fray, as well as a silent representation to the infamous “Queen Mab” monologue.  Additionally, there were plenty of costume changes that highlighted the extravagance of the Capulet household, as well as the time period.

As for the overall production, the sets were lovely with their depth effect and use of scrims. It was a simplistic set, but fit the purposes well and really captured the essence of the streets of Verona. All of the pieces of this production worked well together for a lovely performance. It really excelled at converting the text of Shakespeare to the audience making it digestible and powerful. Theater and performance art excels at bringing international programs forward to Chicago audiences. I think it is vital for a thriving arts community to witness a variety of interpretations and talent from other cultures. The National Ballet Theatre of Odessa is a great reflection of that timeless thread that connects all of us and that is through story.

For more information about upcoming events including international performances at Harris Theater, please visit https://www.harristheaterchicago.org/