Saturday, May 03, 2008

Culture Cat: Romeo and Juliet

Last night I attended BalletMet's final performance of the season, David Nixon's Romeo and Juliet, set to the music of Prokofiev. The entire 30th Anniversary season has been spectacular to watch, but this finale was a glorious way to end the celebratory season. While the story is familiar, Nixon's fresh choreography, along with the elaborate sets and gorgeous costumes, create a fresh take on the ancient story and,in some case, even improves upon it.

The ballet is divided into three acts, leading to some initial confusion as to where the intermissions would fall (it comes after Act I--Acts II and III are performed together, with slight breaks in the action for costume and scenery changes). While this is less than Shakespeare's five-act play, I found Nixon's version to be an improvement by focusing more on the essential story and eliminating some of the extraneous scenes found in the play.

The casts, as usual, rotate, but I feel that Friday night's cast was absolutely pitch-perfect in their dancing and interpretation of their parts. Adrienne Benz and Christian Broomhall played our title lovers, and I was enchanted by their dancing the entire evening. They were arresting. I had seen Mr. Broomhall dance in the title role in Aladdin earlier this season, and I greatly enjoyed seeing him tackle a major role again. His Romeo was a bravura mix of passion, melancholy (as he pursues Rosalind in Act I), love and even rage, during his Act II duel with Tybalt.

I had not, however, seen Ms. Benz in a leading role. Her Juliet was the appropriate mix of youthful energy (she is, after all, barely 14) and young love that evolved into deep passion and despair by the end of the evening. In Act III, Juliet is almost constantly dancing. Ms. Benz never for a moment showed the effort that must have taken and was mesmerizing in her Act III solo where she vascilates between taking the poison the Friar (Jimmy Orrante) has given her, or marrying against her will.

The lovers' two grand pas des deux, the "Balcony Scene" in Act I and in Act III, before Romeo's banishment, are intensely dramatic and technically demanding. I cannot say enough good things about their dancing.

The rest of the cast easily equalled the virtuosity of our leading pair. Especially notable were Justin Gibbs as Tybalt (especially in his Act II duels with Mercutio and Romeo) and Christine Mangia as Lady Capulet. Her dancing demonstrated her character's regal bearing, but she was even more powerful in her demonstrations of grief following the deaths of Tybalt and Juliet. Lord Capulet, danced by Company Ballet Master Hisham Omardien, did his best dancing when interacting with Juliet. Their tender relationship in Act I lead perfectly to the breakdown of it in Acts II and III, when Juliet refuses to marry Count Paris (elegantly danced by Jackson Sarver). Nixon's choreography demonstrates Juliet's emotional detachment from her father in a series of steps where he tries to embrace her, only to have her step out of his arms before he can hold her. It is simple, but powerful.

Other standouts among the cast included Jeff Wolfe as Mercutio and Catherine Yoshimura as the hysterically funny Nurse. She and Wolfe had several scenes together and their comic timing was impeccable. Juliet's relationship to the Nurse is critical to any performance of Romeo and Juliet, whether in ballet or the theater, and here it was tender and teasing, with the Nurse serving as Juliet's protector and confidante.

The ballet was truly perfect, and an excellent way to end BalletMet's 30th Anniversary season. Now I have to wait for July to see any new ballet, which seems very far away right now.

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