For the first time ever Dutch National Opera and Dutch National Ballet share the stage in a joint production in which both art forms are of equal importance. Sasha Waltz's Roméo et Juliette is set in an abstract world with minimalist sets, contemporary choreography, but little narrative. Based on Berlioz's stripped down version of Shakespeare’s tragic love story, never meant for the stage, the choreographer tries to focus on the tragedy of love and hate and the relation between the two.

Igone de Jongh (Juliette) and James Stout (Roméo) © Monika Rittershaus
Igone de Jongh (Juliette) and James Stout (Roméo)
© Monika Rittershaus

This production only follows Shakespeare’s classic very loosely. In the opening scene we are introduced to the Montague and Capulet families, dressed in black and white, each claiming their own side of the stage. The fight scene is rather beautiful and inventive, with arms turning into swords and dancers forcefully, yet gracefully, attacking each other. In a temporary moment of peace, Roméo and Juliette meet each other and fall in love, while the chorus sings and predicts their fate. From that moment on, the focus in the production is on the two lovers, and the other characters from the story have a supporting role or are not really noticeable at all.

Igone de Jongh (Juliette) and James Stout (Roméo) © Monika Rittershaus
Igone de Jongh (Juliette) and James Stout (Roméo)
© Monika Rittershaus

However, the ensemble plays an important role in this production, not only because they represent the rival families, but also because at moments they seem to go through the same problems as the lead couple. In fact, in the first scenes it’s hard to separate Roméo and Juliette from the other dancers. Until the ballroom scene, they are all dressed the same in puffy metallic tutus, performing funny steps, hopping on two feet and collapsing like wind-up dolls. But they all rise again, as if to predict future events.

The Balcony Scene and the remarkable classical duet which follows is when the romanticism and drama of the story become visible, however it still feels like a distant kind of emotion. Perhaps it is the cold scenery, perhaps it is because Sasha Waltz alternates between abstraction and storytelling, or just simply because the choreography doesn’t allow the dancers to demonstrate all that they are capable of doing. The ending too lacks pure emotion. When Juliet drugs herself, the corps comes on stage to place her into the crypt. Roméo runs in, Juliette awakens and they dance a short duet before he collapses and dies, after which Juliette kills herself. But this is not the end. All the dancers and singers come onto the stage to perform a long and mournful scene. While I liked to see the full cast sharing the stage, I didn’t get up in their mourning and grief.

Alisa Kolosova and dancers from Dutch National Ballet © Monika Rittershaus
Alisa Kolosova and dancers from Dutch National Ballet
© Monika Rittershaus

I feel that dance and opera are not equally represented in this production. The chorus plays an important role in the opening and closing scenes of the production and Alisa Kolosova performs a strong contralto solo towards the beginning of the evening. Finally Paul Gay (Père Laurence) sings a final solo in which he reveals everything that happened and calls for reconciliation. However, all the singers disappeared in the middle part of the production, where Berlioz focuses purely on orchestral forces. The biggest roles seem to be for Igone de Jongh and James Stout, who perform Roméo and Juliette without pointe shoes and virtuoso solos, and on a sloping surface. Yet their duet in the Balcony Scene, in which they sway, embrace and featherly move aross the stage, is the most classical and remarkably also the most memorable part of the choreography.

Vito Mazzeo (Le Père Laurence), Igone de Jongh (Juliette), Sébastien Galtier (Capulet) © Monika Rittershaus
Vito Mazzeo (Le Père Laurence), Igone de Jongh (Juliette), Sébastien Galtier (Capulet)
© Monika Rittershaus

Sasha Waltz aimed to create a timeless work round the characters of Roméo and Juliette, one in which emotion should play an important role. The result felt rather cold, a distant universe that failed to carry me away. But as a whole it was interesting to watch, with beautiful moments in which music and choreography came together.