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Boston Ballet’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ delivers

Ballet Review | 4 out of 5 stars

Published: Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, November 9, 2011 05:11

Romeo & Juliet

Courtesy Rosalie O’Connor / Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet’s production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ dazzles.

Romeo & Juliet

Courtesy Rosalie O’Connor / Boston Ballet

Skilled dancing, a strong score and a beautiful set bring ‘Romeo and Juliet’ to life.

Perhaps more than any love story to grace the stage of ballet theaters throughout history, "Romeo and Juliet" demands your attention. The production calls for the portrayal of political intrigue along with forbidden desire and heart wrenching tragedy — and that's just the plot.

The ballet combines the unavoidable pull of a story of star−crossed lovers with a forceful interpretation of score. In addition, impeccable dancing and acting from principal dancers and corps members alike make the Boston Ballet's current incarnation of John Cranko's "Romeo and Juliet," — performed by different dancers on alternating nights — an unmitigated success.

Misa Kuranaga shines as an angelic Juliet, delivering a passionate portrayal of the troubled tween. Her size helps — Kuranaga is downright sylphlike — but grace and innocence flow through aspects of her Juliet that go beyond the physical. Nelson Madrigal is her reassuring Romeo, smitten yet confident as a Romeo should be. Cranko's choreography demands more of a devotion to character than technical skill or endurance, and these two deliver.

In one of the few instances when Cranko calls for a display of virtuosity, Madrigal joins Paulo Arrais as Mercutio and Jeffrey Cirio as Benvolio in a bad−boy trio of whirling dervishes. Giddy to sneak into the Capulet ball in plain sight, the three firecrackers tackle Cranko's devilishly difficult series of double tours en l'air in a way that is utterly satisfying to watch.

The importance of a skilled corps cannot be overstated in a large−scale production, and one of the most effective moments of Cranko's ballet takes place at the Capulet ball, where cloaked nobles stalk stiffly about the stage with their upper backs tilted back over their tailbones. Their courtly interactions are eerily reserved, and the audience feels it has happened upon a medieval cult.

The challenge of a set designer for this ballet is in finding a way to grab the attention of an audience who surely knows what to expect from its characters from the first note to the final curtain — Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen mentions in his letter in the ballet's program that "Romeo and Juliet is one of the most reproduced stories of all time." Instead of crafting an overbearing Verona set to frame the overly familiar plotline, Susan Benson has concocted a simple and dignified, yet descriptive set.

The fabled balcony is crumbling and romantic, as it should be. Romeo and Juliet's honeymoon bed is similarly suiting. When the young lovers meet the meddlesome Friar (Boyko Dossev), they seem to seal their fates as they stand before a backdrop that evokes the gates of heaven itself. Most striking of all, a stone lion's head looms overhead the Capulet ballroom, matching the creepiness of its skulking attendees.

Juliet's staged death, and her genuine demise later on, proved the high point of the company's subtle approach to drama. The range of reactions to Juliet's unmoving body tells us everything we need to know about the relationships in Cranko's Verona. Finding her to be "dead" after drinking the Friar's sleeping potion, Tai Jimenez as Lady Capulet maintains a noble demeanor and accepts it in pained stride with a brisk stalk out of the room. Madrigal's Romeo, on the other hand, cannot accept the truth until he holds a limp Juliet in his arms.

Jonathan McPhee leads a splendidly vigorous orchestra through Sergei Prokoviev's heartfelt score. As much as its dancing, acting or backdrop, "Romeo and Juliet's" music brings character to the ballet, and little more could have been asked of the musicians.

Notably, Cranko's ballet does not end with the typical reconciliation between the Capulets and Montagues — there is neither symbolic shaking of hands nor any solemn nods among enemies who must come together in sorrow. Instead, Cranko's curtain closes on the two lovers lying dead in each other's arms — opening again only to show the dancers defiantly standing in front of their early grave.

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