Take the greatest love story ever told, set it to the music of one of the world's greatest bands, and you have Romanian choreographer Edward Clug's Radio and Juliet -- well, sort of.
The ballet, which makes its U.S. premiere when it opens the 2008 Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts this week at the Byham Theater, puts a different spin on Shakespeare's tragedy. Set to songs by alternative rockers Radiohead, danced by Slovenia's Ballet Maribor, Radio and Juliet dwells within one specific moment in Shakespeare's tale: the moment when Juliet awakens to find Romeo lying dead next to her.
"I developed the ballet as a prolongation of that moment," said Clug, by phone from Lisbon, Portugal, where the company was performing. "What would have happened if Juliet didn't take her own life?"
In creating his reflection on the Romeo and Juliet story, the award-winning choreographer and former dancer says he purposefully distanced himself from Shakespeare's version. The one-hour ballet -- set in today's world, with a storyline that unfolds in flashback in Juliet's mind -- is a retrospective on unfulfilled love in which Juliet examines her emotional journey leading to the dire moment in which she must choose between life and death.
A cast of seven (six men and one woman) take on symbolic roles, says Clug. Juliet becomes less Shakespeare's character than a representative of women in general, while the ballet's male characters represent sheer masculinity.
Though the ballet does not specifically follow the original storyline, says Clug, it does retain moments recognizable from Shakespeare. There is a masquerade-ball scene (with the male dancers outfitted in surgical masks) and scenes referencing the conflict between the Montagues and Capulets.
Laced with metaphors and symbolism, Clug's contemporary choreography is a mix of feminine delicacy and male power. The movement is minimalist, at times bravura, and decidedly European in style. The set design consists of an empty stage backed by a video screen that will show footage related to Juliet's story. Clug keeps the costuming simple as well: Juliet will be outfitted in a corset and pointe shoes, while the men will be in dark suits, with bare chests.
Radiohead, meanwhile, is Clug's favorite band. He says he was struck by the tragic sensibility of some of its songs, which he related to the Romeo and Juliet story. Clug set the ballet to 10 Radiohead tracks, primarily from the albums Kid A, Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief. This is not the first time Radiohead's music has found its way into a Romeo and Juliet production; filmmaker Baz Luhrmann also used the band's music in his 1996 film Romeo+Juliet.
Ballet Maribor's Radio and Juliet Festival of Firsts performances are also firsts for the company and Clug, neither of whom has been to the United States before. Having toured the production to critical success in Europe and Asia, Clug hopes his unique take on this most familiar of stories will captivate American audiences and have them clamoring for more.
Ballet Maribor presents Radio and Juliet 7 p.m. Fri., Oct. 10, and 8 p.m. Sat., Oct. 11. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. $19.50-40.50. 412-456-6666 or www.pgharts.org