Utah wanted it and Utah's got it - "Romeo and Juliet" in its third (and finest) edition, glowing with life and dripping romance; young love as tender and urgent as tomorrow, impaled upon the heartless majesty of the Renaissance.
Critics declare that music often better serves Shakespeare than words alone, citing Verdi's "Otello" as a classic example of this. But dance sometimes outdoes them all, conveying a thousand subliminal emotions that mere speech is incapable of expressing.Such is the case with this "Romeo and Juliet," which starts with the magic of Prokofiev's magnificent score - a rich musical tapestry into which every nuance is woven with a thousand cues for the sensitive artist to discern. And Michael Smuin has caught the juxtaposition of sophistication and barbarity that defined the time, in a gripping choreography.
The production's excellence shows the advantage of repeated performances so close together. Beginning with its company premiere in September 1988, again in February 1990, and now appearing only a year later, this "Romeo and Juliet" draws on the expertise of many dancers who were in on it from the start. Such maturity is a luxury that shows up again and again in the confident daring of principals and corps who get further inside their roles with each repeat.
What this production demonstrates is capacity - the dancers' ability to spread themselves over the whole spectrum of this big piece with gallantry, elan and vitality, to take on new roles and serve them well, to show themselves individually and collectively at their best.
From the company as a whole, the street scenes are fantastic. Every dancer appears to have identified his own character as a real person and plays it to the hilt. The misguided loyalties of street gangs seethe below the surface and erupt passionately in the rough and tumble games, spontaneous circle dances, fencing and dueling pushed to the limits (kids thought they were immortal in those days, too) and bawdy humor of idlers hanging around the corner. In both performances I saw, the energy of these scenes left me breathless.
But on to the crux of the matter - the young lovers themselves. And in Erin Leedom, Ballet West has a great Juliet, who projects a younger-than-springtime image, who allows the music to sweep over and around her as if she were a harp. She is technically brilliant, but technique is at the service of emotion and drama in suggesting a precious life that is snuffed out at its dawning.
Raymond Van Mason has subdued his typically heroic style to distill the purely romantic nature of Romeo, his youthful exuberance, his pangs of first love and finally his desperation. He and Leedom form a great partnership in strong, poetic pas de deux whose daring and daunting lifts seem only the natural joyous outcome suggested by the sweep of the music.
Wendee Fiedeldey's Juliet is light and fleet and adolescent, and altogether the finest dance portrayal I have seen her give. She looks the part, her emotional involvement is complete and everything about her character rings true. Richard Bradley continues to grow as an exciting danseur noble, as his Romeo fulfills every technical and emotional requirement.
Jiang Qi suggests the light, flippant nature of the class cutup brilliantly as Mercutio, a role in which Jeffrey Rogers shows equal savoir faire in a little more burly edition; both duel nonchalantly and die gallantly. Rogers and James Dlugokinski alternate as the nimble Benvolio, Romeo's other boon companion.
Lisa Lockerd and Dawn Meeker define the dalliance of Lady Capulet with sophistication and mark the death of Tybalt (a repellent hothead in the actions of Bruce Caldwell and Peter Christie) with wild outbursts of grief. Bene Arnold brings even greater humor and kindliness to her earthy nurse, and Attila Ficzere mimes the wise Friar Lawrence with dignity.
The production looks stunning in costumes and settings by William Pitkin. The ballroom, in smoky, almost barbaric splendor of reds and golds, yields strikingly to the night sky dotted with stars that forms the backdrop for the balcony scene pas de deux.
The orchestra, conducted by David Van Alstyne, gives a good account of the music. I would like a little more subtlety at times, but the emotional content is right, and tempos and pace ideally suited to carrying the action and building climaxes.
Jane Wood and Robert Arbogast will also dance Juliet and Romeo in some upcoming performances.