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Cincinnati Ballet

Two Shows, Both Alike In Dignity

'Romeo and Juliet'

by S.E. Arnold

February 13-14, 2004 -- Aronoff Center/Cincinnati, Ohio

Like the tempering sound of the muted strings that dissolves the strident intervals warring in the brass and woodwinds of Prokofievís "Princeís Command" theme, the dramatic focus of Victoria Morganís "Romeo and Juliet" on the transcendence of love clears the clamor of interpretations that want to cloud Shakespeareís play.

In addition to its division into three acts and fourteen scenes, the use of scrims and massive, movable staircases and arched causeways to depict Verona, the Market Square, and the Capulet ballroom, balcony, and sepulcher further bracket the balletís space. Moreover, the scrims for stone, plaster, or orchard that blunt all but short-sighted prospects, the abundant elegance of the Renaissance costumes, the huge and varied cast, the carnival atmosphere of troubadours, harlots, and the ribald antics of Mercutio and Benvolio combine with the violence of the Montague-Capulet rivalry to illustrate the confining material world of Romeo and Juliet.

In contrast to the crowded, frenzied, and strife gorged space of the market square scenes, the open space of the balcony scene encouraged the blissful possibilities inspired by the new horizons sighted through the zoom of spontaneous love. Blessed with two casts of lovers ďboth alike in dignity,Ē the experienced Kristi Capps and Dmitri Trubchanov, at once tender and intense, brought the audiences of the Friday and sold-out Saturday evening performances to their feet. Also alike in audience response, the Saturday and Sunday matinee performances of Tricia Sundbeck and recently promoted soloist Anthony Krutzkamp, added the excitement of seeing emerging artists. Aptly wraith-like in appearance, Sundbeckís dark flowing hair amplified her facial expressions and by contrast made her pale features continuous with the lightness of her costume. This faintness of aspect underscored Julietís vulnerability, and when combined with Sundbeckís dramatic ability, Julietís rapture, commitment, suffering, and fatal resolve crossed the distance between vicarious and immediate experience. Krutzkampís shy grin met his technical capacities to portray a dewy young man given to consuming rhapsodies of bravado jumps and beats. Yet each matinee performance gave witness to the self-conscious Romeoís very first kiss.

The kisses (etcetera) accumulated by wenching wizards, Mercutio and Benvolio, however, buggers any accounting. Danced with the energy and playfulness implied by the characterís name, the Mercutios given on alternating performances by Mike Wardlaw and Zack Grubbs provided the energy that warmed the theatre. On the other hand, Mercutioís vulgarity and puckish provocations ultimately set the choleric Tybalt on fire. Whether danced by Jay Goodlett, whose stage presence always convinces, whatever his role, or Aaron C. Thayer, whose likeness to Lukas Hoving (the first Iago in The Mooreís Pavane) added an extra measure of evil to Tybalt, both dancers found a dimension of his character deeper than a cardboard ĎPrince of Cats.í

The finest Prince to cross the stage, however, was Frederic Franklin, artistic director emeritus of the Cincinnati Ballet and living legend, in the role of Friar Lawrence. And, without Regina Cerimele-Mechley doubling as the nurse and fight choreographer, Morganís "Romeo and Juliet" would have been neither as exciting nor as convincing.

In terms of the regal and the legendary, however, Prokofievís score for "Romeo and Juliet" manifests an Olympian ideal with its bright and heroic sound. Under the baton of Maestro Carmen DeLeone the Prokofiev sound reached its celebrated evocative and graphic potential. Whether describing the whirl and confusion of the fight scenes, the playfulness of Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio, the soaring love of Romeo and Juliet, the clowning antics of the troubadours, the haunting dread of Julietís desperation, the optimism of the morning serenade, or the monumental weight of the funeral scene, the orchestra and the artistry of the soloists verified the dramatic and soul-stirring potency of the music.

Forceful, too, among the telling aspects of Morganís "Romeo and Juliet" are its synoptic tableaus. Caught in cones of bleaching light, each of the eight tableaus punctuate the themes of enmity, death, the rush of love, and loveís priority. The repeated image of a male figure cradling the body of a dead young woman - the Dukeís display of the child victim of the Capulet-Montague melee in the first scene, which foreshadows Lord Capuletís display of the Ďdeadí Juliet - amends the divine necessity implied by the loverís Ďstar-crossedí fate to allow contingent terms. Fate in Morganís "Romeo and Juliet" modulates into the false necessity of lustful appetites and the habits of social convention. What, in the eyes of Capulet, is Julietís willful disobedience of his divinely sanctioned authority and hence evil is rather the rightful exercise of her agency. In Morganís "Romeo and Juliet," this emphasis on the agency, the free will of the lovers against the crass necessities and oppressive habits of their milieu made the death each gave for their love of the other possible and believable. Picturing the possibility of such transcendence makes the ballet both soulfully wrenching and assuring.

Edited by jeNAI

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