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Tulsa Ballet

'Romeo and Juliet'

by Gretchen Collins

September 29, 2007 – Civic Center Music Hall, Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Tulsa Ballet’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” was  more bittersweet than usual due to the sudden death of its choreographer Michael Smuin. He died last April in the studio of his Smuin Ballet dance company while teaching class. The former artistic director of San Francisco Ballet, he was the recipient of a Tony, an Emmy and a Drama Desk Award. “His departure was a great loss for the American dance community,” said Marcello Angelini, artistic director with Tulsa Ballet.

Angelini felt that Smuin’s 1977 version of “Romeo and Juliet” was the best in the American dance market. Fortunately, the show went on. Smuin had authorized Angelini and ballet mistress, Daniela Buson, to stage all the duets and scenes including the characters of Romeo and Juliet. Susan Frei, ballet mistress with TB, staged the group scenes. Attila Ficzere, Smuin’s original Mercutio with the San Francisco Ballet, staged the Mercutio scenes and other characters. Steve White choreographed the sword fights. “Romeo and Juliet” has always been a team effort even during Smuin’s life.

The Tulsa Symphony Orchestra made the trip down the turnpike to Oklahoma City to provide live music for the performance, thanks to the support of The Virginia Kramer Kulp Orchestra Fund. Honorary Chairs were Governor Brad and Kim Henry. Honorary Guests included ballet greats, Yvonne Chouteau and Miguel Terekhov. Costumes and scenery were courtesy of Ballet West.

Smuin’s Broadway experience was apparent in the elaborate group scenes. Both praised and criticized for his vivacious, sometimes flashy productions, these were gorgeous, not at all over the top. The many couples from the corps de ballet covered the stage in rich reds. Sergei Prokofiev’s music is sinister as if predicting what is to come. The couples alternately danced and marched which emphasized the rhythm, adding an exciting element to the vibrant ballroom scene. There was nice lifting and turning by the men and lovely pirouettes and extensions by the women.

In this production, principal dancer Alfonso Martín and soloist Karina Gonzalez portray the lovers. Gonzalez is an elegant dancer. She is luminescent on stage. In the ballroom scene, Gonzalez pirouettes repeatedly. One is executed so slowly, but perfectly, it appeared to be in slow motion--her filmy skirt floated through the air. Beautiful! Gonzalez also convincingly displayed the unsophisticated yearning of a young woman unerringly. Juliet’s inexperience in matters of romance came through, but so did her excitement of first love.

Martín’s Romeo is earnest and believable. The partnering between Martín and Gonzalez is developing nicely as the two dancers work together. His lifts always look effortless, but one he accomplished in Act III was especially fine. He had to elevate Gonzalez while she held her body  erect and straight. It left the audience with a collective open mouth.

During the balcony scene there was even more to appreciate. Martín lifted Gonzalez, rolling her down his body into a graceful fish dive. Martín performed leap after leap as his Romeo courted Juliet. Later, he carried Juliet to the staircase with Gonzalez in an aerial backbend. Their pas de deux is a combination of adolescent shyness and efforts to express their love in grownup terms, followed by the uncertainty of their familial situation. This was magical to watch. One wonders if a woman rises to her toes, one foot lifted to signify she’s in love, originated from ballet or did ballet imitate true life?

Principal dancer Ma Cong’s solo as Mercutio was short, but dazzling. Always a crowd-pleaser, his rapid-fire turns and leaps were met with spontaneous applause. His scenes with Martín and Alberto Montesso as Benvolio were super. Montesso, a corps dancer, kept pace with the principals in several challenging sequences.

Corps members Soo Youn Cho and Mugen Kazama, as the street dancers, put on a show in Act II. Who knew the human body could become a pinwheel! Yet, these two balls of fire really lit up the stage in this wonderfully fun street scene. The two proved an energetic couple as they grinned ear-to-ear through this entertaining interlude.

Georgia Snoke played Juliet’s nurse. The diminutive Snoke was padded to look more matronly–a difficult look for the stunningly attractive woman. She always adds much to her characters. Here she played it for laughs as she shoved aside the men of the Montague family to deliver Romeo’s letter to Juliet.

Alexandra Bergman, soloist, played Lady Capulet. Once again, she showed off her acting skills. After Tybalt’s death, Bergman depicted, with convincing emotion, the depth of anguish a mother would experience at the loss of her child.

In the crypt scene, this tragedy of errors concluded in arching backs and graceful stumbles as the lovers were finally united in death. As Martín’s arm descended slowly, achingly to the floor we couldn’t help wanting to see it all over again.

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