Of Moving Colors’ company dancers are excited about where Pavel Zustiak will take them next in their telling of William Shakespeare’s most popular romance.
Zustiak, artistic director of the New York-based dance company Palissimo, is a collaborator for the contemporary dance company’s “Romeo + Juliet.”
Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday in the Manship Theatre. This production also marks the company’s finale for the 2014-15 season.
“This work will capture the essence of the story without using a literal narrative or gestures like the classical play or ballet might do,” says Garland Goodwin Wilson, the company’s artistic director. “It’s a very contemporary perspective.”
Wilson collaborated with a group of outside dancers, set and sound designers and choreographers. Zustiak met with the company first, creating the introductory scenes for the work.
His is a who’s who segment of “meet the Montagues and Capulets.”
“It’s the opening scene — the party scene — where Romeo and Juliet meet,” Zustiak says during a break at Garden District Coffee.
The coffee shop stands across from Of Moving Colors’ rehearsal space in the Powell Moise School of Dance, where Zustiak has been translating movement into storytelling.
“I’m just here for five days,” the choreographer continues. “It’s a short time but we’ve accomplished a lot.”
Zustiak and Wilson were fellow students at a performing arts school in Canada. That was in the late 1980s. The two have since shared projects.
“I worked with the company on their production, ‘Pink,’ in 2011 at the Manship Theatre,” Zustiak says. “It’s a gift to work with this company — they’re open to different approaches and mixtures, and they appreciate it.”
Other “Romeo + Juliet” collaborators include film set designers Bennett Seymour and Patric Sullivan. Company dancer Craig Messina also contributed to the set.
“We knew that we wanted a contemporary set that would work for multiple scenes of the production, but one of our dancers — Craig Messina — conceived of a piece that could unfold like an old storybook, and it really resonated with me,” Wilson says. “I was so grateful that the guys from Dixie Prop and Fabrication could make our vision come to life in a few days.”
And joining Zustiak on the list of choreographers are John Allen, associate professor of dance at Tulane University, along with company choreographers Wilson, Carrie Tatum, Bethany Jones McCullough and Courtney Landry.
Allen spent several days with the troupe creating the balcony scene. Juliet will pine for Romeo through movement instead of her immortal line, “O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?”
Powerful interpretations of the Bard’s words can be found in a variety of art forms from visual art to music to ballet. No lines have ever been recited in any of these mediums.
And love at first sight will be expressed only through passionate dance and movement when Romeo sees Juliet in Zustiak’s opening sequence.
“When I came here, I started thinking about where I wanted to stylishly place the production,” Zustiak says. “So, I looked at Bas Luhrmann’s film.”
Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” was released in 1996, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes. The time frame was contemporary, but the setting was surreal.
Zustiak considered giving the show a punk theme at first but decided to follow Luhrmann’s contemporary lead. And like Wilson, Zustiak considers set and costume designs as important to the performance as the dance.
This can be seen through his own dance company’s use of dance, sound, light, film, video and scenic design as Palissimo assembles artists of various disciplines to create cutting edge performances.
“Palissimo considers its diversity a key attribute,” states its website, Palissimo.com. “It is a company dedicated to constantly shifting ground, questioning its status quo, and finding original solutions to new challenges.”
Zustiak certainly has challenged Of Moving Colors, and the company’s dancers and choreographers are responding.
“Working with Palo is such a fulfilling departure from how one might envision dancers creating work,” says Tatum, associate director and dancer. “Taking very pedestrian movements and improvisations and then seeing them taken to the next level, progressing into a piece of choreography, is really fun to be a part of.”