Courting Death: From Lorca’s Blood Wedding drama to Mills’ Romeo & Juliet ballet

By Glenda Rice Collins      (Updated 2-20-20)

Oklahoma City, Okla. USA — From the recent production of Federico Garcia Lorca’s Spanish classic, Blood Wedding, at the University of Oklahoma (OU) arts district in Norman –(see a related 2-13-20 article, Renegades…, on this website) –to last weekend’s Oklahoma City Ballet staging of William Shakespeare’s tragic Romeo & Juliet love story at Civic Center Music Hall, reminders loom forth of the fragility of life, and how frequently death is courted as the permanent solution to a temporary situation.

Drama: Surrealist Dilemmas

OU guest artist Sara Guerrero, the Blood Wedding director, has noted:  “I’m attracted to the way death is celebrated in (the Blood Wedding) world of realism and surrealism….(as) a final rite…nothing to fear…(unlike in Western society) wholly celebrated,” as in the magical realism of the Mexican, Mexican-American and Chicano roots, she shares.

To ‘celebrate’ death as an escape route for revenge, or as a spiritual reunion for star-crossed lovers gone awry, becomes all the more tragic for the young, trapped by societal expectations, family feuds, persecution, and the bittersweet pain of passion.

Death by Execution

Sadly, the beloved, high-profile poet and playwright Garcia Lorca’s 1936 death, at age 38, was most probably by a firing squad assassination, apparently on official orders, the details of which still remain a mystery of Spain’s Franco-era rule. Lorca was persecuted for his beliefs during the Spanish civil war.

Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding is a joint production of the OU University Theatre and the Helmerich  School of Drama. “A play rich in contrast and history, Blood Wedding is infused with visual, societal, emotional, and personal contrasts…resulting in exceptional opportunities to stretch one’s imagination and question one’s perceptions,” notes Mary Margaret Holt, dean of the Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts at OU.

“With (student representatives of)… the schools of Drama, Music, and Dance (the interdisciplinary production) is truly…representative of the deeply layered power of the arts.”

Blood Wedding is an associate entrant in The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. To view a video of Scene Stories related to the recent OU production, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuzZk75s9hY&feature=youtu.be.

__________

Federico Garcia Lorca Quotes:

”In each thing there is an insinuation of death. Stillness, silence, serenity are all apprenticeships.”   ”Only mystery allows us to live, only mystery.”

”In Spain, the dead are more alive than the dead of any other country in the world.”

__________

Oklahoma City Ballet: Robert Mills celebrates his 2015 Romeo & Juliet once again

Balcony scene (1)

Romeo (Guest artist David Ward, of London, England) professes his love to Juliet (Courtney Connor Jones) in the balcony scene during last weekend’s Oklahoma City Ballet production. Photo by Glenda Rice Collins.

DANCE: Revisiting the Star-Crossed Lovers

Ward & Jones by Jana Carson

Ecstasy personified, by David Ward and Courtney Conner Jones, in Robert Mills’ 2020 reprise of his Romeo & Juliet ballet. Photo by Jana Carson.

Oklahoma City Ballet artistic director, and 2015 Romeo & Juliet choreographer, Robert Mills recently revisited his version of the ballet he premiered five years ago, with current updates, such as some Act III changes.  “The Prokofiev music is my favorite score,” he said backstage at last week’s dress rehearsal, and it remains one of my favorites as well.

Colorful trio

Street dancers cavort in Act II of Mills’ Romeo and Juliet.  Costume and set designer: Frenchman Alain Vaes. Photo by Jana Carson.

So well-suited to carry the listener into the action with resplendent richness of purpose, the Sergei Prokofiev musical masterpiece  constantly drives the exuberant rhythms ranging from those for the inspired street dancers flair, to the impassioned lovers bliss in the balcony and bedroom scenes, –and into the later, powerfully-contrasted, swelling spirit of the tombs.

Within the tombs

Juliet’s body is taken to the tomb in Act III of Romeo & Juliet, as directed  by Robert Mills in 2020. Photo by Glenda Rice Collins.

During the 1960’s, I viewed the film version of Romeo & Juliet, starring Royal Ballet prima ballerina assoluta, Dame Margot Fonteyn, and the iconic Russian-defector superstar, Rudolf Nureyev. The artistry was superb. Now I see that a new Royal Ballet film version was reportedly released last year in England.

NOW: Footwork Films Anew

According to Royal Opera House News website, https://www.roh.org.uk/news:  “A new film from Footwork Films in association with The Royal Ballet, BBC Two, BalletBoyz and Manilla Productions will present Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet as it (h)as never been seen before,” taking it out of the theatre and onto the streets of Verona.

“The production is a groundbreaking feat of filmmaking that combines film, music and theatre in an entirely unique and unprecedented way,” notes Chris Shipman, in his September 23, 2019 ROH news feature.

Kenneth MacMillan influence

I first experienced the full-length Kenneth MacMillan version of the Romeo & Juliet ballet as presented by The Royal Ballet at the Kennedy Center Opera House, in the 1970’s.

Robert Mills‘ choreography for Oklahoma City Ballet offers definite similarities to the MacMillan interpretations, which were partly influenced by South African ballet dancer and choreographer, John Cranko’s 1960’s work for the Stuttgart Ballet.

The Oklahoma City Ballet dancers have risen to the current challenge. This ballet demands it all — intense drama, strong technique, interpretive skill, refined musicality and depth of character — synergy extraordinaire!  The soaring score,  as mastered by the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, under the baton of guest conductor Joel Levine, allows for nothing less than memorable brilliance on stage.  Bravo to all!

Sword challengge

Oklahoma City Ballet dancers watch the challenge of the Act II duel.  Former ballet principal Frank Shott, PT, DPT, LMT, served as fight scene choreographer. Mercutio (Brazilian Jonathan Batista, at left) and Tybalt (Sam Jones) court death by sword. Lighting designer: Aaron Mooney, Photo by Glenda Rice Collins.

Juliet Reacts to Death, by Jana Carson

Traumatized, Juliet (Courtney Connor Jones) mourns Romeo’s (David Ward) needless death in Robert Mills’ Romeo & Juliet ballet. Photo by Jana Carson.

Historical notes

“I had the good fortune to come of age as a ballet lover from the vantage point of the Kennedy Center Opera House during the 1970’s,”  wrote Greg Standford, for his AnotherAmerica.net blog post, 1970’s Kennedy Center Ballet. “Kennedy Center Executive Director Martin Feinstein kept audiences supplied with a cornucopia of ballet companies during a decade that established a level of artistry seldom matched since,”

My own Kennedy Center Opera House experience was similar during the 1970’s. As a former resident of nearby Vienna, Virginia. it was an easy commute to see the world’s greatest  ballet companies, on international tours with resplendent, new and old works!

Blandford continued, “The New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theater began twice-annual visits (back then). Audiences enjoyed the precision and elegance of George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet, while the American Ballet offered such stellar attractions as Natalia Makarova and Ivan Nagy and, later, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland. Frederick Ashton’s Royal Ballet featured Anthony Dowell and Natalia Makarova in Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo & Juliet.”

Synergy extraordinaire

What I remember most about the gold standard Kennedy Center 1970’s Royal Ballet Romeo & Juliet production, was the overwhelming magnitude of the theatrical experience:  the iconic Sergei Prokofiev score, exceptional talent, the fine musicians, the grand Kennedy Center Opera House acoustics, and the emotional qualities conveyed by the synergy of it all — from the balcony scene, to the bedroom pas de deux, to the tombs!

“MacMillan’s challenging choreography, teeming with dark and violent themes, jolted ballet out of its fairytale slumber – and split critical opinion right down the middle,” proclaimed Sanjoy Roy in a 2010 article for The Guardian.

Sir Kenneth MacMillan (1929-92), who served as artistic director of The Royal Ballet during the 1970’s, died of a heart attack, backstage at London’s Royal Opera House during a performance of Mayerling, at age 62.

2020 HORIZONS

We have yet to see what new legacies and hybrid works await in 2020. Robert Mills, and his world premieres, will undoubtedly be among the Mid-America highlights!

Oklahoma City Ballet Upcoming Performances

March 13-15, 2020
At the Susan E. Brackett Dance Center
An Add-On Performance: 

FUTURE VOICES- A CHOREOGRAPHIC SHOWCASE

Artistic Director Robert Mills brings back this fun and creative showcase of dance featuring works choreographed by company members and other local dance professionals. Don’t miss this fast-paced, innovative program of new works! Question and answer session with the artists after each performance.

 

April 17-19, 2020
At Civic Center Music Hall:

 

(E)MOTION(S) – A TRIPLE BILL

Jorma Elo’s – Red Sweet

Red Sweet is an energizing contemporary ballet with an evocative blend of punctuated and abstract movements from celebrated Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo. Witness why Elo is one of the world’s most popular contemporary choreographers with this clever work.

World Premiere – Penny Saunders

Oklahoma City Ballet continues its objective of creating new work for the 21st century with a commission from American choreographer Penny Saunders. The New York Times called Saunders “a remarkably fresh mind, with talents for suspense and surrealism.” Experience this new choreographic voice with a world premiere created especially for our dancers.

World Premiere – Robert Mills

Nearly 25 years ago, Oklahoma City became the center of the world’s attention with the devastating bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.  168 innocent lives were lost in the tragedy.  It remains the deadliest domestic-based terrorist attack in the history of the United States. In this groundbreaking world premiere created in partnership with the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum, Artistic Director Robert Mills will create a new work that not only serves as a remembrance of those who were lost, but a celebration of a resilient community that has come together to transform itself in the aftermath.

This project is generously funded by Mid-America Arts Alliance, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the state arts agencies of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas:

 

For additional details, visit: https://www.okcballet.org/.

Credits: Banner photo by Jana Carson.

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