Placing Shakespeare’s plays in different historical contexts is a longstanding tradition for theater companies and filmmakers: modern dress and settings are used to both illustrate universality of themes and to make Elizabethan language a little less intimidating to contemporary audiences. Krzysztof Pastor, director of the Polish National Ballet, places the tale of the ill-fated young lovers across not one, but three time periods. In the case of ballet, iambic pentameter is no barrier to comprehension; Pastor uses moments in twentieth-century Europe to illustrate the power of politics to destroy individual lives. As in Shakespeare’s play, the setting is Italy: Act I takes place in the 1930s, at the rise of Mussolini. Act II travels forward in time to the 1950s and the violent turmoil incited by the Red Brigades. The final act takes us to Berlusconi’s Italy, a place of increasing wealth disparity and social unrest.
Pastor uses Prokofiev’s iconic, hair-raising score, which will be performed live by the Chicago Philharmonic. Costume and set designer Tatyana van Walsum created sleek street scenes and contemporary garb that complements the story without distracting from the dancing. And the dancing? Powerful, virtuosic. (Sharon Hoyer)
Joffrey Ballet at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 East Congress, (800)982-2787. Wednesday, April 30-Sunday, May 11. $31-$152.