Arts & Culture in Mideast ‘romeo and Juliet,’ Love Overcomes All Obstacles

An adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” to the Israeli-Palestinian context is proving to be a huge success in Budapest. “Romeo and Juliet in Jerusalem” — Romeo is an Israeli Jew, Juliet a Palestinian — is being performed to full houses at the Hungarian National Dance Theater and has been invited next year to Sweden, Norway, Finland, the United States and Mexico, among other places. It also may be performed at next year’s Israel Festival in Jerusalem.

Ivan Marko, a former dancer who directed and choreographed the ballet, taught and worked at Israel’s Rubin Academy from 1991-1993.

“The conflict in my Romeo and Juliet ballet is not between two feuding families, but rather a clash between traditions, religions and cultures,” he said. “We deal with two religions and cultures that are connected to each other in many ways, but still are enemies with hatred between the two peoples.”

He hopes to show the audience that “love and humanism can overcome all enmities,” Marko said. “As a Jew, I wanted to show how I feel about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

One of the changes in the show is that Romeo has no family, and a rabbi — who replaces the Catholic priest of Shakespeare’s original play — is Romeo’s symbolic father. The rabbi blesses the young lovers’ secret marriage.

There’s also a happy twist to what has become an iconic tragedy: After drinking from the poisoned chalice, the two lovers eventually regain consciousness.

“It’s a happy ending, as it’s my wish that finally the conflict ought to be solved,” Marko said.

Juliet’s face is covered during the show, except when she dances with Romeo. The music is Arabic when Juliet’s family is on stage, and changes to Eastern European Jewish sounds when it’s Romeo’s turn.

Tickets for the performances are sold out for the next few months, and the show will move to a bigger theater next year.

“For us Israelis, it’s very interesting to know how much the Jewish issue interests the Hungarian people,” Aya Admon Maysels, an artist and wife of David Admon, Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, told JTA.

“In the past, it wasn’t usual in Hungary to freely express your Jewish identity,” she said. “Today no one has to hide who he or she is. It’s very important that one can say freely, ‘I’m Jewish, and I feel free to express it,’ and in Marko’s ballet this is explicitly stated.”

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