“Romeo and Juliet” Plays Out Its Dramatic Heritage
Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley
Friday, 10 March 2006
San Jose Center for the Performing Arts
by Dean Speer
I always find it a treat to visit the exotic locale of San Jose and enjoy Ballet San Jose. It’s an attractive company with a deep array of artistic talent, led by Dennis Nahat, its Artistic and Executive Director.
I was especially enthralled to see Karen Gabay’s return to a role created for her by Nahat in 1986. Gabay’s Juliet was invigorated, energetic, and lovely. Clearly her technical breeding at SAB and her discipline have sustained and kept fresh her dancing. Her artistic maturity shows clearly in every gesture and heightened nuance.
The winner of the race to quickly learn dances goes to her Romeo, Maykel Solas who, delayed by visa troubles, ended up having to demonstrate what a quick study he is by absorbing the part in only about six days.
In his pre-performance remarks, Nahat reported that the theatre was remodeled 20 years ago to accommodate this production. The community got two benefits: a handsome ballet and a more usable theatre, suitable to more and bigger types of shows. My only observation along these lines is that even with this major remodel for large-scale ballet productions, Ballet San Jose could use a stage with more depth. While it did work nicely, the overall impression I had was that it was too flat and a bit squeezed for space.
Nahat knows how to tell a story. His handling of the material is clear and his choices each made for the elucidation of the story, with the dancing contributing to the narrative and emotional impact of this timeless and tragic love story. He also re-ordered some of the musical selections, which he felt made better sense in a different flow – and the success of the ballet shows he was right.
Nahat gave us a cast that was strong in all parts, from former ABT star Roni Mahler as a delightful and secretly man-hungry Nurse (when Romeo gives her a peck on the check, she puckers up for more), to the heads of each feuding house.
While keeping the story moving, he also gives us plenty of dancing – from townspeople and Gypsies to the nobility. I also liked his treatment of the Capulet’s ballroom scene which has probably some of the most famous music in it and one that is familiar to any ballet class-taker as grand battement – and especially appreciate that he has the nobles do more than strut about and drop pillows on the floor, as they do in the original Bolshoi production.
The Balcony scene is the emotional heart of the ballet and this pas de deux shows us the young lovers overcoming their fears and beginning to get to know each other, expressing, exploring, and deepening their love through movement. I like how Nahat give us some motifs that he returns to and develops as the couple develops. The sweeping us and out from arabesque, tilting back in sous-sus, the running and catching.
Rather than just concluding with the deaths of our “star-crossed lovers,” Nahat has the two houses come out, and while lamenting their losses, suggest that a future reconciliation may be in the offing and that hope is rising from this great tragedy.
Ballet San Jose always offers a great deal of good dancing, genuine and very admirable productions, and a fare that’s sure to, if not completely satisfy artistically, will at least give value and spicy variety to your balletic diet.
Dwight Oltman led the Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley Orchestra.