Thanks to Kenneth MacMillan, most American balletgoers think they know what to expect from Romeo and Juliet: A big balcony scene, heart-pumping sword fights, serious dramatic acting. So Joëlle Bouvier’s take on the Shakespearean classic, which Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève will perform at Jacob’s Pillow this June, will surprise.
“A story this famous is a very delicate thing,” says BGTG dancer Madeline Wong, who will dance Juliet (Juliette, in Bouvier’s version) at the Pillow. “But Joëlle had no qualms about reinventing it. She wasn’t interested in developing the dramatic storyline. She wanted to keep it all abstract and simple. You won’t see a beautiful love duo or a big sword fight.” Instead, there’s just the suggestion of a narrative in the stripped-down contemporary choreography.
And that’s been a challenge for Wong. “I know the story so well that I want to layer it on top of the steps,” she says. “My instinct is to show Juliette’s love for Roméo, and her despair later. But Joëlle has helped me learn how to let the movements tell the story that she wants told, to avoid overdramatizing.”