Romeo & Juliet
"THE CAPE TOWN EXPERIENCE"
A Ballet in Two Acts
Music: Sergei Prokofiev
One of the first reputable ballet productions of Romeo and Juliet in Cape Town was Frank Staff's 1946 choreographic account for Cecily Robinson's Cape Town Ballet Club. Arranged as a one-act ballet and set to Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture for Orchestra, Staff stressed the art of pas de deux for the two lovers and concentrated almost exclusively on the character development of Romeo and Juliet.
The next Cape Town production was Staff's three-act version for the University Of Cape Town/CAPAB Ballet Company. Performed for the first time on 30 November 1964 at the Cape Town City Hall, this version differed considerably from Staff's earlier, 1946 choreographic reading.
The principle distinction between the two was undoubtedly their length and while the first was only in one act the second was created as a full evening's entertainment. Several other differences included a complete revision of the choreographic structure for the 1964 production, a thorough reworking of the mise en scene in 1964, and the use of Prokofiev's score instead of Tchaikovsky's for his later production.
Yet, there was one important similarity between the two: both had been created for Staff's muse at the time. In 1946, it was Elizabeth Schooling while in 1964, it was Veronica Paeper.
Staff structured his ballet in an incredible nineteen scenes - some of which were obviously very short while at least two, scenes seven and eight in Act II, were joined. Meticulously observing the original scenario set out by Leonid Lavrovsky and Prokofiev, Staff embellished his production with several innovative ideas such as some highly amusing antics for the townsfolk and Capulet's pages. He also made use of a highly imaginative concept in which the dancers created a slow motion effect before the same sequence was repeated in realtime, alternatively where the action froze.
Added to this were several choreagraphic references to Gothic-styled architecture and the use of fixed positions or movement motifs tantamount to a choreographic exploration of the Renaissance return to classical Greece. Equally effective was the powerful image created towards the end of Act II where Mercutio and Tybalt are united in death by a sorrowing Romeo.
Further examples of Staff's theatrical skill were represented by Juliet's memories in Act III where her imagination is plaqued by a figment of Paris and where the ghostly apparitions of Mercutio and Tybalt appear before her in Friar Lawrence's cell.
The apparitions are joined later by a vision of Paris and Juliet, clearly terrified, is forced to dance with them. The sequence was apparently Staff's translation into movement of Shakespeare's potion scene.
For the 1964 production Veronica Paeper shared the role of Juliet with Margaret Duckitt while David Poole danced Romeo at all the performances. Staff interpreted Mercutio and John Simons performed Tybalt. Circumstances rather than conscious choreographic planning occasioned a conspicuous absence of Benvolio, simply not enough male dancers.
The Cape Town Municipal Orchestra under the baton of David Tidboald accompanied the 1964 performances. Staff's production was revived in 1965 with the Paeper/Poole combination of lovers alternating with Phyllis Spira and Gary Burne. Owen Murray replaced Staff as Mercutio.
After the Cape Town run the ballet was seen in the Eastern Cape, Free State, Northern Cape and Gauteng, as well as touring to Maputo and Mozambique.
In 1974, Veronica Paeper mounted her version of Romeo and Juliet for the erstwhile CAPAB Ballet Company. Although Paeper's production was based on Staff's both conceptually and choreographically, it differed structurally with the first and second acts being shortened, and the first act concluding with the Garden(Balcony) scene rather than Staff's Ballroom scene.
Over the years Paeper's Romeo and Juliet has evolved choreographically and this is particularly evident in the sublime construction of her tender pas de deux sequences for the ill-fated lovers. However, many of Staff's original ideas have remained intact with each revival conforming to the intrinsic shape and style of his 1964 production.
Happily, the Cape Town City Ballet now adds Veronica Paeper's Romeo and Juliet to its repertoire.