Rock, ballet and Shakespeare at the Byham

By Colleen Seidel

‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ It’s not often that an art form as strictly traditional as ballet, a story as… ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ It’s not often that an art form as strictly traditional as ballet, a story as classically tragic as ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and music as starkly modern as alternative rock collide, but when they do, it makes for interesting results. ‘ ‘ ‘ Tonight Pittsburgh art patrons will witness just such an intersection of genres with the U.S. premiere of ‘Radio and Juliet,’ a reinterpretation of the Shakespeare story set to music by the rock band Radiohead, performed by the Romanian dance company Ballet Maribor. The performance marks the opening of Pittsburgh’s International Festival of Firsts. ‘ ‘ ‘ Choreographer and principal dancer Edward Clug is the creative mind behind the unusual pairing. ‘Their music and the atmosphere they create opened me to a specific dimension, [and] offered me the possibility to analyze and reflect on this popular story,’ he said of the inspiration to use Radiohead as a backdrop for ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘I don’t know exactly when it happened. I was not thinking about Radiohead and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at the same time,’ he explained. ‘I was coming from a classical background, but I’ve been a fan [of Radiohead] for more than 15 years. What they create with their music, it suits my way of thinking. Especially when their [album] ‘Hail to the Thief’ came out, I was totally convinced I would do a performance on them.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ But the performance today did not come to fruition innately or easily. Clug said that he focused first on the movements, rather than on the story, and he built up sequences around the movements. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘I allowed myself a lot of freedom, a lot of interpretation,’ he said. ‘I wasn’t really influenced that much by the music itself. I first concentrate on the movement. It doesn’t have anything to do with the story. Then when you set these movements in certain situations, they become meaningful.” ‘ ‘ ‘ And as if the inclusion of modern rock didn’t change the story enough, Clug emphasized that it’s not the traditional ‘Romeo and Juliet’ told from beginning to end.’ The performance is set up in flashbacks and frames rather than one linear storyline. And Clug focuses mainly on the character of Juliet. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘One particular moment that caught my attention is when Juliet wakes up next to Romeo’s dead body. I stop at the moment somehow,’ said Clug. ‘I experienced the project as a prolongation of this moment, a delicate journey of this lost woman, to a point of no return, waiting for an ideal love, waiting to complete her love.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ While this weekend’s performances mark the first time the production graces a U.S. stage, Ballet Maribor toured around the world performing ‘Radio and Juliet’ more than 70 times in two years. With such a successful run for a relatively new piece, Clug stated that the public response has been nothing but ‘fantastic,’ especially in the face of the piece’s challenging position.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘I like the public thinking about what he’s seeing, and not offering him a story that he already knows so well,’ added Clug.