Volsky on “Romeo and Juliet Best MCB’s Production Ever”

ROMEO AND JULIET BEST MCB’S PRODUCTION EVER

By George Volsky

Miami City Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet, the universal story of love at first sight, was the most  professional, convincing, and even for a jaded reviewer the most moving production in the company’s quarter century existence. And it was a triumph for Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg who masterfully combined  multi-nuanced dancing  and  acting that the Juliet role requires.

Carlos Guerra, Kronenberg’s  partner in the ballet, as he is in real life,  was an excellent Romeo.  He portrayed with authority the role of a young, eye-roving aristocrat seized  by a sudden paroxysm of irresistible attraction for a girl, the instant he  sees her for the first time.

That seminal moment, when Romeo’s and Juliet’s eyes meet,  both are struck by the arrows of Eros which inexorably  seal their fate. The moment is only second-long, yet it marks the turning point in the ballet  which, within an tale of a long-standing and bloody family discord,  portrays a dramatic change, an instant growth of the two protagonists. That process of physical and mental growth necessitates from both, especially Juliet,  very considerable acting skills, interwoven into the whole gamut of balletic expertise.

Presiding over Romeo and Juliet, as it were, is the Sergei Prokofiev majestic music score written  in the middle of the 1930’s for Leningrad’s Kirov Theater. The ballet  was not produced for several years because the Soviet Moscow cultural censors wanted it to have a happy ending, theatrically not difficult to stage since it would involve Romeo arriving on the stage only a few seconds later, the moment Juliet awakes from the potion-induced death-like state. Finally the faithful Soviet  Shakespeare lovers prevailed and the 4-act ballet   by Eugeni Lavrovsky opened in Leningrad in 1940, with the legendary Galina Ulanova in the Juliet role.

Other versions of R&J followed, all with Prokofiev’s music and the Bard’s story. The one presented by the MCB was choreographed by  John Cranko and performed for the first time in 1962 by the Stuttgart Ballet of which he was director. Cranko’s  3-act ballet is regarded as the best of all R&J created so far. All of them are based on Shakespeare’s time-honored play in which virtually all of the most memorable sentences are pronounced by Juliet.

Kronenberg obviously could not declaim: “O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo;” or “What’s in the name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet;” or “Parting is such sweet sorrow/ That I shall say good night till it be morrow.”

Sill, through her dancing Kronenberg seemed to be expressing her new,  love-inspired wisdom which, as though influenced by Cupid she had developed shedding her initial almost child-like behavior.

At first, after greeting  Romeo shyly, Juliet does not want to be touched by him, or allows him to kiss her hand, as tough afraid of an emotional volcano such contacts would produce in her body and mind. But love and desire prevail. Totally smitten by Romeo, Juliet abandons  all conventions – social and religious – invites her inamorato to her bed, ties her destiny to him, and ends her life when instead of joining him and live happily ever after as she was told to expect she sees him dead.

The most moving part of the ballet is the almost ten minute long pas de deux, at the end of the first act. The two lovers, mostly by embraces, lifts and intimate gestures, develop without inhibitions their emotional and carnal love – Juliet is actually a bit more sexually aggressive than Romeo –  and determine to be united for ever come what it may.

(Of course, the philosophical question can be posed whether the total but shot marital ecstasy is worth more than what it could follow: possible prolonged, bitter disappointments  and years of gnawing unhappiness.)

But Romeo and Juliet is not only about the two lovers. It is a narrative about generation-long enmity between two extended aristocratic clans in Renaissance’s Verona, the House of Capulet of which Romeo is the crown prince, and the House of Montague, whose female crown jewel is Juliet.  Members of the clans perforce meet in Verona’s streets and central plaza and often clash.

Sword fights take place despite stern, pacifying admonishments by the ruling Duke of Verona. Tybald, the menacingly dressed and coifed Isanusi Garcia-Rodriguez, who oozes hatred of the Capulet clan and  looks like the Montague enforcer, duels and kills Mercutio, a Capulet and a friend of Romeo, who soon takes revenge and swords Tybald through.  The two cadavers make the clans’ enmity irreconcilable, while at the same time the love between Romeo and Juliet deepens.  (Shakespeare, after the lovers’ death, reconciles the two houses; not so Cranko and the other choreographers; Prokofiev’s music ends on a grave tone as well.)

Still, the ballet has many delightful and joyous moments not related to love – after all life is fun in Verona too. For example, Romeo, before being fletched by Juliet, was a fun-seeking young blade, anything but a chaste, brooding Hamlet. There is a lively and male pas de trios – Guerra, Rabello and Renan Cardeiro – the last two are certainly up and coming MCG dancers – and very well rehearsed and physically dangerous sword plays. (Unlike theater actors, dancers are not usually taught to fence.)

And there is the incomparable dancing by the amazing MCB core de ballet which, it gives me pleasure to repeat, is the backbone of the company.  These amazing very young women and men provide the necessary supporting context for all MCB productions, certainly for this one. Everybody was helped by the splendid costumes and scenery, courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada, and the public enthusiastically applauded both.

Romeo and Juliet represents a very important addition to the MCB’s repertoire, and another shining milestone in the long  career of its Artistic Director, Edward Villella.  Thanking  the person who deserves it, one has to mention that last weekend’s presentation probably would not take place except for the perseverance of Mike Eidson, former MCB chairman, who   for years had been promoting  Cranko’s R&J version and had worked assiduously to secure funding for it.

Romeo and Juliet ended, regally one might say, the MCB’s 25th consecutive season. The season was appropriately dedicated to the company’s founding chair, Toby Lerner Ansin.  And, as the saying goes, after the first quarter century the best is yet to come.

About Stephen E. McGaughey
International consultant in economic development programs and projects

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