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Pennsylvania Ballet

'Romeo and Juliet'

by Lori Ibay

June 10, 2005 -- Academy of Music, Philadelphia

Pennsylvania Ballet capped off another successful season with “Romeo and Juliet,” the company’s fifth presentation of John Cranko’s full-length ballet (PAB’s first production was in 1990, and the most recent in 2000).  Friday evening’s performance showed the company in cruise control, like a well-oiled machine driving a familiar course (to audience and company alike) with hardly a bump in the road.

The scene opened with chaos -- a crowded stage, flying fruit, and even the brass section sounding as if they were fighting with the rest of the orchestra -- representing the well-known feud between the Montagues and the Capulets.  As the commotion settled, the audience met the characters we all know so well -- Romeo (James Ady), with his friends Mercutio (Jonathan Stiles) and Benvolio (Andre Vytoptov) -- and so began the familiar love story of the star-crossed lovers.

As Juliet, Arantxa Ochoa shone with her usual luminance.  At the start of Act I, she was an eager young girl, playful with her nurse, showing her youthful bliss with delicate bourrees and arabesques when her mother presents her with her party dress.  By the end of the act, she matured into a betrothed woman in love with the forbidden Romeo.  In the pas de deux in the famous balcony scene, Juliet was first timid then passionate, as Ochoa exhibited her spectacular extension in steady, high lifts and a breathtaking cambre. 

There were a few more glimpses of the young, naïve Juliet, such as in the first scene of Act III, when she runs to her nurse’s arms after hearing she must marry Paris.  It’s not entirely clear when she completely transforms from the innocent girl so excited over her party dress, to the young lover with the defiance to rebel against her parents, to the woman capable of passionately taking her own life -- but Ochoa makes Juliet’s maturation completely evident, from Juliet’s first scene to her death.

Ady’s Romeo was both regal and endearingly boyish -- a young man with noble poise, but seemingly almost desperate to be in love.  Ady was a wonderfully attentive partner to Ochoa’s Juliet, convincingly infatuated with his partner while consistently strong, steady, and supportive.  Ady portrayed both sides of Romeo wonderfully -- with excellent control of his pirouettes and double tours, but appropriately youthfully reckless with his comrades, yet also displaying mature responsibility when he refused to fight against Tybalt.

As Mercutio and Benvolio, corps members Stiles and Vytoptov were full of vigor and acrobatics, which was wonderfully in character for Romeo’s sidekicks.  However, some channeling of their strength and energy for cleaner technique and better control of jumps and pirouettes would have been even more impressive. 

In the house of Capulet, Gabriella Yudenich was both a supportive mother figure and friend as Juliet’s nurse; Meredith Rainey was a fiery Tybalt, powerful and intimidating; Alexei Charov played a menacing Lord Capulet; and Tara Keating was an appropriately bizarre Lady Capulet -- gyrating on top of Tybalt’s slain body, while later she calmly realized that her own daughter was dead in her bedroom.   

The corps, as usual, added liveliness and commotion in the streets of Verona, with standout moments from the gypsies and jesters in Act II.  Though dainty and lovely, it’s a wonder that the bridesmaids in Act III didn’t notice that Juliet was dead sooner, when she didn’t wake to the sounds of the oncoming stampede.

From the opening fight scene to the closing death scene, Pennsylvania Ballet’s closing production gave the audience everything it came for -- a tragic love story, glorious costumes, and wonderful dancing from the company’s stars. 

Looking ahead to next season, the audience has even more to come back for, starting with the return of Christopher Wheeldon’s groundbreaking new “Swan Lake” and ending with Matthew Neenan’s “11:11,” this season’s sleeper hit in my opinion.  Though the works are new and unfamiliar to some, they capture the spirit, energy, and talent at the heart of Pennsylvania Ballet.  Congratulations to the company on another successful season, and for fulfilling their audience’s every expectation.  Bring on the unexpected!


Edited by Staff.

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