Review: Veronica Paeper’s Romeo & Juliet for Cape Town City Ballet is astounding – this is classical ballet which soars beyond archetype, with athleticism

Romeo & Juliet – Sergio Prokofiev’s three act ballet- of Shakespeare’s play

Choreographer: Veronica Paeper for Cape Town City Ballet [CTCB] as part of its Winter Season 2022
Décor and costume design: Peter Cazalet
Lighting design: Wilhelm Disbergen
Dates: August 4 to 28
Where: Artscape, Cape Town  
Featuring: Cape Town City Ballet, guest artists at selected performances
Orchestra: Cape Town Philharmonic (at some performances), recorded music at some performances
Conductor: Renowned ballet conductor, Jonathon Lo at selected performances (conducting the CPO) and Brandon Phillips at other performances (conducting the CPO)
Bookings: Artscape Dial-A-Seat 021 421 7695 or through Computicket  

During lockdown, Cape Town City Ballet [CTCB] delighted and surprised me with its productions. Working within the limits of lockdown regulations – masked and limited audience and other challenges -it was inspiring to witness the sheer growth of the company and its embrace of classical ballet- in tandem with contemporary dance and contemporary classics. With Veronica Paeper’s Romeo & Juliet, there is a dazzling confluence of classical precision with contemporary dance expressions. I attended opening night, with Lêusson Muniz (from Brazil but a member of CTCB) as Romeo and Kirstél Paterson (principal ballerina, CTCB) as Juliet. Prokofiev’s beautiful score (three act ballet) sizzled with the Cape Town Philharmonic under the baton of guest conductor Jonathan Lo who is considered one of the leading ballet conductors in the world. Attending a performance with him conducting, one understands why he is revered. There is a seamless synchronisation between the dance and music. It is if the dancers are cued in to the music at all times. It is magical to experience a live orchestra, the CPO, and the magnetic Jonathon Lo. The energy of the orchestra and the vitality of the dancers – is breathtaking. Romeo & Juliet is breathtaking. Veronica Paeper’s choreography of this three act ballet is audacious and innovative. There was a standing ovation, reminiscent of a rock concert. If only, we could have had an encore.

Paeper’s choreography is intricate and layered with multiple references. There is the exactitude of classical ballet with considered pointe work (exhilarating), arabesques, ballonnés and all the classical ballet feats. Within the classical cannon, Paeper has brought in an athleticism which one sees with athletic and strength type dance- often termed as cirque- which has an acrobatic element. The athleticism is foregrounded in the stunning carnival scene in Act 2, scene 1. The dancers leap, somersault, pyramid on top of each other but still retain the precision of classical. This is Romeo & Juliet classical ballet, re-imagined for a contemporary and the result is extraordinary.

Talking of extraordinary, Kirstél Paterson nails Juliet. The same goes for Lêusson Muniz as a dashing Romeo. It was a revelation to see Paterson as Juliet. She was made principal ballerina of CTCB in 2019. Soon after her promotion, she made her debut as Aurora in Denise Schultzes’ Sleeping Beauty. In that production she was also cast in the role of the Lilac Fairy, and for which she won the Sir Geoffrey Nieman and Brian Van Rheede Award for the Most Outstanding performance in 2019. She is outstanding. It is fitting that she was cast in the role of Juliet in the opening performance of Romeo & Juliet, which is part of Cape Town City Ballet’s Winter Season 2022.

Everything is heightened and finely tuned in this Romeo & Juliet. The entire company is animated – at every moment. This production is a masterclass in physical, non-verbal dance theatre, with gesture and bodies speaking the narrative of the tragic lovers. Within the tragedy, there are moments of mirth and playfulness and again this is testament to Paeper’s choreography, direction and attention to detail. Each dancer is a draw card for the eye.

The staging is magnificent. Décor and costume design is by Peter Cazalet and lighting design by Wilhelm Disbergen. They have conjured up the grand opulence of Verona – costumes, soaring scale of the spaces and they also tap into the intense and intimate moments between the lovers. In conjunction with the use of full volume of the stage, between set changes, a sliver of stage is used, as a ledge. We see dance playing out in this concentrated space- again breathtaking –and a vivid contrast against the full volume staging of the production. Disbergen once again shows his brilliance as lighting artist – tempering the gloss and sumptuousness of the general hyper scale setting against the intimate moments between the lovers. The final devastating scene of the end of the love story is shrouded in a light which resonates with a dreamlike sense of not being of this earthly world. One could hear the audience gasping at the sadness of before us. This is indicative of the emotional impact of Veronica Paeper’s Romeo & Juliet. This epic production is not only technically on pointe, it is choreographically innovative, mashing strength and athletic and strength dance with classical ballet. The orchestra is a knockout. Jonathon Lo, leading the CPO, is a maestro.

Cape Town City Ballet delivers a brilliant production with its artists, guests and younger performers. Note the performance schedule and dancers – including international guest artists- and conductors (Jonathon Lo and Brandon Phillips), here: There is recorded music at some performances.

Acrobatic: The spectacular carnival in Act 2, scene 1 of Veronica Paeper’s Romeo & Juliet, which is part of Cape Town City Ballet’s Winter Season 2022. Photo: Kim Stevens.

✳ Featured image: Kirstél Paterson (principal ballerina, CTCB) as Juliet and Lêusson Muniz (CTCB) as Romeo, in Cape Town City Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet, choreographed by Veronica Paeper, August 2022. Photo credits: Kim Stevens