Ballet Maribor presents Radio and Juliet

The Byham Theater was host to the United States premiere of Ballet Maribor’s Radio and Juliet this Saturday night as part of the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts.

The Slovenian ballet company Ballet Maribor and Romanian-born choreographer Edward Clug presented a sensational performance, dancing the world-renowned tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet to the music of Radiohead, merging modern dance, music, and film to create something remarkable.

The six dancers, five males (including Clug) and one female, bring Clug’s modern interpretation of the Shakespeare tragedy to life through precise and powerful contemporary abstract dance. Dressed in black trousers and suit jackets, the male dancers represent masculinity and the modern working man, with each in turn trying to seduce Juliet, dressed in corset and pointe shoes, who is ultimately the main focus of the story. As Clug explains, “Everything in this story develops around Juliet; it’s a performance about her, with this woman presented in a masculine universe.” In the opening scene, Juliet sees Romeo lying dead next to her and the story is then told in reverse.

Through abstract and sharp movements, the audience is subjected to conflict, hatred, anger, despair, violence, and death, while smoother, more delicate moves display love and hope. The profound music of Radiohead helps emphasize these themes, through the lyrics, such as “Every day, every hour, wish that I was bullet proof,” during the scene that depicts the death of Mercutio, and the sound, such as the crescendoing dissonance in “Sit down, Stand up,” and the breathtaking intensity of “We Suck Young Blood.”

“Obviously, I like Radiohead very much. Their music has a really special atmosphere, and their lyrics — for me they are contemporary poetry,” Clug said.

In addition to the contemporary dance, sounds, and lyrics, the ballet cuts to a video on a large screen at the rear of the stage at various points throughout the 58-minute production. The screen displays powerful images of Juliet lying on a mattress in an otherwise bare room, Juliet walking slowly to a window, Juliet lying fully clothed in a bath — in an extremely effective portrayal of pain, despair, lost love, and loneliness. The lighting also plays an important role in the ballet, particularly during a heart-wrenching love scene where Romeo and Juliet perform an intense dance, their entwining moving bodies silhouetted against a brightly lit screen.

Although the ballet does not closely follow the story of Romeo and Juliet, there are scenes recognizable from the play, such as fight scenes reflecting the conflict between the Montagues and Capulets, the wedding, the Masquerade Ball, during which the male dancers are clad in surgical masks, and the final death scene where Clug swaps poison for a lemon — the only display of color in the entire production. Clug was somewhat reluctant to explain the precise reasoning for this aspect of the adaptation, instead leaving it up to the viewer’s own interpretation.

“We use some symbols at some crucial moments in Shakespeare’s tragedy, and since this is a contemporary and quite abstract performance, the masks have some other significance, but I don’t want to get into that; I’d like to keep it more open. But it’s a reflection of our times.”

Radio and Juliet tells the story of Romeo and Juliet from a different perspective, through brilliantly choreographed and typically European moves, entrancing music, and thought-provoking video that all combine to form a wonderful and beautifully dark modern ballet.