The Korea Herald


Two vastly different 'Romeo and Juliet' ballets take to stage in May

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : March 31, 2024 - 16:17

    • Link copied

Universal Ballet's production of Universal Ballet's production of "Romeo and Juliet" (Universal Ballet)

In May, Seoul will host two different ballet productions of Shakespeare's timeless masterpiece, "Romeo and Juliet."

Universal Ballet's "Romeo and Juliet" choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan will grace the stage of the Seoul Arts Center’s Opera Theater from May 10 to May 12.

The production, for which Universal Ballet acquired the performance rights in Korea in 2012, will return to the stage after its last performances in 2016 and 2012.

On May 10 at 7:30 p.m. and May 12 at 7 p.m., American Ballet Theater’s principal dancers Seo Hee and Daniel Camargo will grace the stage. Seo, the first Asian to be appointed a principal dancer at the ABT, will mark her first performance in Korea after 11 years, her last one here being for Universal Ballet in "Onegin" in 2013.

Universal Ballet's principal dancers Kang Mi-sun -- the winner of last year's Benois de la Danse -- and Rhee Hyon-jun, will perform on May 11 at 2 p.m.

For the remaining performances on May 11 at 7 p.m. and May 12 at 2 p.m., a new Juliet will be selected through auditions conducted by a director visiting Korea from the Kenneth MacMillan Foundation, according to the Universal Ballet.

MacMillan’s "Romeo and Juliet" premiered at the Royal Opera House in 1965, with Sergei S. Prokofiev’s music. Among the many adaptations, MacMillan's rendition stands out for its faithful portrayal of Shakespeare's original tragedy.

The production portrays Juliet as a headstrong, passionate girl who makes all the crucial decisions: having a secret marriage in defiance of her parent’s wishes, taking Friar Lawrence’s potion and joining Romeo in death.

Matthew Bourne's Matthew Bourne's "Romeo and Juliet" (LG Arts Center)

‘Romeo and Juliet’ as a story of modern youth

British choreographer Matthew Bourne's "Romeo and Juliet," making its Korean premiere at the LG Arts Center in Seoul from May 8 to May 19, reimagines Shakespeare’s tragic romance and Prokofiev’s ballet masterpiece through a contemporary lens.

The piece is set in the near future at the Verona Institute, a reformatory for teenagers, tightly watched over by security guards.

Romeo and Juliet meet and fall in love, vividly capturing the passion, energy, recklessness and pain of youth. It boldly addresses the issues faced by today's teens such as drugs, trauma, depression, abuse and sexual identity.

Slight changes have been made to Prokofiev's score with composer Terry Davies and a 15-member ensemble participating in rearranging the sequence of 30 of the original 51 scores and adding five new pieces.

Renowned for his creative, modern reinterpretations of classical ballet, Bourne, a nine-time Olivier Award winner, has consistently challenged conventions. In his 1995 production of “Swan Lake,” he introduced muscular male swans.

“Romeo and Juliet” is Bourne’s ninth performance in Korea after “Swan Lake” in 2019.