Saturday, October 04, 2003

Romeo and Juliet, the ballet (Ohio Ballet)

Pleasing ‘ROMEO AND JULIET’ by Ohio Ballet

Shakespeare’s ‘ROMEO AND JULIET’ is the classic love story. It contains unrequited love, passion, conflict and pathos. It has been translated into many forms. Plays, films, even a musical (‘WEST SIDE STORY’) have told and retold the story. It has also been done in various dance forms, including a ballet with lush music by Segei Prokofiev. The latter was recently performed by the Ohio Ballet at the Ohio Theatre as the company’s season opener. The performance will be repeated on October 10 and 11 at E. J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall in Akron (Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday at 2:00 p.m.).

Though the OBT production can never be compared to that performed by the Bolshoi or other world class companies, it is a very pleasing, enjoyable and nicely created piece.

Choreographer Bengt Jorgen, artistic director of Ballet Jorgen Canada, decided to do a traditionally costumed, but modern balletic interpretation of the piece. Thus, the story seems more accessible and easier to follow than more classical versions. Jorgen’s gymnastic, interactive, often tense, often humorous choreography allows the performers latitude to create characters, thus forcing the performers to be actors as well as dancers. Some of the corps is capable of the necessary stretch, others are not so adept.

Alicia Pitts is glorious as Juliet. She is young, childlike without being childish, and dances with style and ease. She appears to float as she moves across the stage on toe. She partners well with her Romeo. Most impressive is her acting ability. She goes from glee to being forlorn, from indifference to love, with ease. This is impressive, very impressive!

Young Eric Carvill is more than adequate as Romeo. Last year, in a review of the OBT, I indicated that Carvill had grown in his short tenure with the troop. I never dreamed that he was ready to play the lead in a full-length story-line production. In a world class company, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity. At OBT, where except for Brian Murphy, who is too old to play Romeo, there is no stellar male dancer, he was the right choice. Carvill danced well, was properly youthful, partnered superbly. His major problem was his lack of character development. He showed few mood changes. His face was generally static. Smiles appeared not to be part of his acting repertory. His was a case where an acting coach, to supplement the dancing direction, was needed.

Toby George, a newcomer to the OBT corps, danced Mercutio with style. He was especially proficient in the comic scenes. He is a welcome addition to the troop and it can only be hoped that with more experience he will control his tendency to react in stylized movements and reactions and expand his dance proficiency.

Ashley Bowman as the nurse, Amanda Cobb as Lady Capulet, and Damien Highfield as Tybalt were all excellent.

The sword fight choreography was outstanding. On the other hand, the physical confrontations were marred by Jorgen’s annoying tactic of using and reusing two handed pushing as his major conflict vehicle. It often made the performers look like pre-schoolers on the playground.

The final dual-death scene is compelling. Romeo dances with the “dead” Juliet in his arms, then the format reverses as Juliet is revived from her coma-like state and caresses her lover. It is a fine, fine visual illusion.

Glenn Davidson’s set design is beautiful. It is made functional by choreographing set changes so that the staging flows smoothly. Unfortunately, his lighting design is not as successful. There are many dark spots on stage and, at times, lights seem to go on and off at whim, causing some confusing moments. Gary Dahm’s sumptuous costumes are era-correct and add greatly to the visual illusion of the ballet.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘ROMEO AND JULIET’ was one of OBT’s better productions since the ascension of Jeffrey Graham Hughes to the role of artistic director.