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REVIEW: Romeo & Juliet, City Ballet of San Diego, May 13, 2012


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City Ballet of San Diego's world premiere of the full length "Romeo and Juliet" at the Spreckels Theatre on May 13, 2012, was a triumph for the Company but especially the resident choreographer, Elizabeth Wistrich and the Company's ballerina, Ariana Samuelsson. This drama in three acts gave Samuelsson the space, scope and story she needed to fully explore all that she is capable of – and more. Every emotion was fully evolved, sensitively presented, passionately gripping and never overwrought.

 

 

It has become the vogue in recent years for ballerinas to infuse the character of Juliet with doses of "reality" – such as a death scene filled with splayed legs and death throes bordering on the grotesque. Samuelsson chose to adhere to the classical structure, trusting it to portray her violent grief without allowing that violence to violate the structure of ballet. Thus she died in an agony of mind but with a beauty of line. A good choice; if I want to see "reality" – I don't go to the theater.

 

Samuelsson's Juliet could have held any stage and I daresay any audience, no matter how sated with numerous Juliets. She has always been a beautiful dancer – and expressive – but this ballet is a marvelous vehicle that takes her well beyond.

 

 

Geoff Gonzalez as Romeo puzzled me. Though involved emotionally in his Juliet and a loving partner, there was a lack of elegance; no pride of place. While he spends his time cavorting in the market square, he also is the son of a noble family and presumably has the air and grace of his class. I didn't see this – except for his fencing ability, he could have been the son of a peasant. There was no aura, and at times he looked almost awkward; legs not fully stretched to the toes, a loss of clarity in his shaping of the movement.

 

 

Gonzalez also choreographed the action and dueling scenes and this was done very well. It is difficult to portray dueling on stage as the intent is exactly the opposite (not to give hurt) than the real thing – which is to inflict damage. Thus, it usually becomes obvious that the duel is choreographed (two counts up, two counts down), and no follow through with the body. Gonzalez skillfully avoided this pitfall and made the action more random, more opportunistic, and so more realistic.

 

 

Stephano Candreva's Mercutio was simply marvelous; crisp clear technique, bright mischievous smile; he sparkled throughout. Nolan Seda as Benvolio didn't have as much opportunity to distinguish his character – somewhere between Romeo and Mercutio – but who is he? Gerardo Gil was a wonderful Tybalt; proud, tempestuous – he oozed disdain.

 

 

Wistrich kept the story flowing, never getting mired down in side action. Her sequencing followed the pattern set by others such as choreographer Kenneth Macmillan in his epic for the Royal Ballet. However, I often wonder why there is no scene concerning how the letter from Friar Laurence to Romeo containing the crucial information that Juliet is not dead – but asleep – goes astray. It is the fulcrum upon which the story turns and yet I can only remember one production which made a point of this.

 

 

The Mandolin dance was a pleasure and ended before over done; the Harlots were active but remained properly secondary. All of the other characters as well as those in the crowd scenes looked as though they truly belonged there – and indeed every member of the Company actively contributed to the whole. The two major pas de deux for the lovers – balcony and bedroom scenes - were beautifully conceived, seamless and passionate; both singing and crying.

 

 

The City Ballet Orchestra was under the direction of John Nettles. Even with a stray note here and there – live music is always a plus, but is it really necessary in a theater the size of the Spreckels to have amplification? I could feel the waves of sound during the several brass sections in Prokofiev's music – and had to literally hold my ears.

 

 

Niggles there will always be, but that in no way subtracts from this striking success for the Company.

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However, I often wonder why there is no scene concerning how the letter from Friar Laurence to Romeo containing the crucial information that Juliet is not dead – but asleep – goes astray. It is the fulcrum upon which the story turns and yet I can only remember one production which made a point of this.

 

The Nureyev. Is it because Prokofiev didn't specifically write any music for it, perhaps?

 

Thanks for the review, Anjuli.

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Thanks for that wonderful review, Anjuli. I always admire choreographers who take on a re-make of R&J when it's been done so many times (to death, some might say); I really enjoyed Chris Hampson's for Royal New Zealand Ballet, and I thought Mark Morris's was one of the worst things I'd seen on stage for a long time. How gratifying, therefore, to hear of another successful version. Please keep the reviews coming, Anjuli.

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