Ballet Maribor is rocking the Bard
When British alternative rockers Radiohead recorded such landmark albums as “OK Computer” or “Kid A,” they might not have had Shakespeare in mind. But with “Radio and Juliet,” Romanian-born choreographer Edward Clug has married the band’s music to the world’s greatest love story.
This version of “Romeo and Juliet” definitely invites a new look at the oft-told tale. “You could call this quite a twisted version,” says Clug, the artistic director of Slovenia’s Ballet Maribor. “My intention was not to retell the story but offer the audience an experience from a different perspective.”
The celebrated contemporary ballet, which has been touring the world since 2006 and makes its Southern California premiere this Saturday at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach, is an intriguing mix of modern and traditional. In this version, the story is updated to present day and the piece is squarely focused on Juliet’s experience, as she awakens to find Romeo lying dead next to her.
“It’s a retrospective through Juliet’s mind and her own experience,” says Clug, speaking from the troupe’s rehearsal space in Maribor, Slovenia. “In the original story, she takes her own life, but I start at that point. She is stuck in that moment of unfulfilled love. People keep asking me, ‘Does she die in the end?’ I didn’t want to kill her again. I wanted to ask, ‘What if Juliet didn’t take her own life -- what would have happened?’ ”
Juliet is the only character identified in the piece, while six male dancers take on the symbolic roles of all the male characters. “She is the one trying to find her way in this masculine universe,” Clug says.
Juliet is performed by Slovenian dancer Tijuana Krizman Hudernik, who has been a soloist with the ballet since 2004. “It’s a special feeling being the only woman onstage,” she says. “Edward’s style is so unique. No matter how many times I perform, it’s always a challenge.”
Fusing razor-sharp, inventive and highly technical movements with music and video effects, this piece has been called by critics a pure example of “Clug style,” an extension of his award-winning choreography. “I don’t have a specific influence and didn’t study any specific techniques,” says the 38-year-old, who became a soloist for Slovenian National Theatre in 1991 before taking on the artistic direction of Ballet Maribor in 2003. “I think you can definitely see that the dancers are grounded in good classical backgrounds, but I wanted to make it a lot more contemporary.”
Clug, a Radiohead fan, first came up with the idea of an entire piece based on the band’s songs when he choreographed a duet to “Life in a Glasshouse” from the 2001 album “Amnesiac” for a dance competition in Japan in 2002. “The president of the jury said he saw the whole story of Romeo and Juliet in five minutes, and that’s what put the idea into my head,” Clug says.
The one-hour performance uses 11 Radiohead songs, including “Bullet Proof ... I Wish I Was” from the band’s second album, “The Bends,” “Fitter Happier” from “OK Computer” and “How to Disappear Completely” and “Idioteque” from “Kid A.” Clug said it was the atmosphere rather than the specific lyrics that inspired him.
“There are moments when the story meets the lyrics, but that was not really the point. It’s the overall emotion they create in their music,” he says. “It makes the story much more approachable and updates it to the 21st century.”
Clug says many audience members have never heard of Radiohead. “Many times, people come up to me and want to know where this incredible music is from,” he says. “This is not just for dance purists. So many people of all ages connect to it.”
While the ballet has been winning praise and drawing audiences all around the world, Clug is yet to get any response from the band. “We have never had any feedback from them, but I really hope one day it happens,” he says.
‘Radio and Juliet’
Where: Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Price: $45; $40 seniors
Info: (562) 985-7000, www.carpenterarts.org