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Boston Ballet - Romeo and Juliet
- Onstage with the Dancers

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Dance Performance Reviews

By Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower

May 17, 2003

Boston Ballet

Romeo and Juliet
The Wang Theatre
Boston, MA

Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director
Valerie Wilder, Executive Director
Jonathan McPhee, Music Director and Principal Conductor
Trinidad Vives, Artistic Associate
Raymond Lukens, Ballet Master/ Director of Boston Ballet II
Eva Evdokimova, Ballet Mistress
Anthony Randazzo, Ballet Master

Pollyana Ribeiro as Juliet and Simon Ball as Romeo
Photo by: Eric Antoniou

Romeo and Juliet (2003): Choreography by Rudi van Dantzig, Music by Sergei Prokofiev, Set and Costume Design by Toer van Schayk, Lighting Design by Lisa Pinkham, Staging Assistants: André Lewis and Stéphane Léonard, Fight Director/Sword Master: Robert Walsh, Performed by Jennifer Gelfand as Juliet, Paul Thrussell as Romeo, Janine Parker as the Nurse, Yury Yanowsky as Tybalt, Karla Kovatch as Lady Capulet, Raymond Lukens as Lord Capulet, Michael Johnson as Paris, Jared Redick as Mercutio, Miao Zong as Benvolio, Brooke Kiser as Lady Montague, Luke Luzicka as Lord Montague, Dean Vollick as Friar Laurentius, Arthur Leeth as Duke of Verona, and an enormous cast as Peasants, Ladies in Waiting, and Guests of the Ball, Conducted by Jonathan McPhee.

Shakespeare's play, Romeo and Juliet, was first performed in 1593. As a ballet, it was first danced to Tchaikovsky, and later to Prokofiev (since 1938) with a score that has inspired countless choreographers to re-fashion this romantic tale of unrequited love. In fact, it is said that one Russian choreographer tried to change the ending, with Romeo arriving just in time to save Juliet's life and their future. However, the music set the tone, and the lovers' demise it was. In 1967, Rudi van Dantzig created tonight's choreography for Dutch National Ballet with his colleague Toer van Schayk, whose sets and costumes were evocative of Renaissance Italy. This choreographed version has been widely performed in Europe and Canada, but Boston Ballet has generated the American premiere this Season, with a cast of about 50 dancers, including children. (Boston Ballet Notes).

As a child, I was taken to the Wang by my parents to see Nutcracker. Now, as an adult, I took my father to the Wang to see Romeo and Juliet. This is a very ornate theatre, with gold and Baroque murals everywhere, steep, old stairs, and a circular, cozy feeling. The stage was dark black tile, and the sets were spare, compared to the ABT version, with which I'm so familiar, and which I'll soon review. I was prepared to experience a new take on what is perhaps my favorite ballet, performed to my favorite ballet score.

Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, as I know it, has magnificence and grandeur, darkness and death. It also has the lightness of the mandolin, strummed in a village square, and the sweetness of Juliet on her balcony, as she romances Romeo, dancing below, arms stretched toward his beloved, who was born to the opposing faction in Verona, as he's a Montague, and she's a Capulet. It also has the stunning death scenes, with swords and knives, as hate and revenge take their toll on Romeo's friend, Mercutio, and on Juliet's brother, Tybalt. Then, there is the issue of bad timing, to the second, as missed messages and sleep that would be death result in the tragic and final sorrow that destroys a town, but removes the differences between the warring families.

This van Dantzig/Boston Ballet version has an even darker, more dissonant, sparcer, and very eery ambiance, that showcases every percussive blast and wailing violin of this disturbing score. There was no large, beautiful Ball of the Capulets, but a smaller ensemble, with the masked intruders, led by Romeo, stalking and surrounding Juliet. There was a more horrifying interpretation of Mercutio's death, and the subsequent sword fight between Romeo and Tybalt. There was a more seductive bedroom scene, a more passionate balcony scene, a more edgy Juliet, a more aggressive Romeo, an angrier Lord Capulet, a wilder Paris, a more vulnerable Nurse, a more helpless Lady Capulet, a more terrifying Tybalt, a less bumbling Friar, Dickensian children, a more military sword fight, a more chiaroscuro lighting effect, and, lo and behold, angels of death, in the figures of the dead Mercutio and Tybalt, that forewarn the impending deaths of the star-crossed lovers. In fact, the usual muddled death scene, with Paris intruding on the soon-to-be-dead couple, was less complicated, with a simple, soulful scenario.

Jennifer Gelfand, although a Principal at Boston Ballet for some time, appeared as a child, with the energy and softness required for this role, and, in addition, most amazing backward footwork, as she interpreted the inner torment and indecision toward her sleep potion, her parents, and her fate. Paul Thrussell, on his Boston Ballet retirement eve, was a splendid Romeo, filled with passion and powerful leaps and elevation. His partnering skills were excellent, as so much of the choreography requires figurative imagery between the lovers. Yury Yanowsky was a horrifying Tybalt, and I was mesmerized, during his two sword fights, with their ultimate revenge and demise. Jared Redick danced Mercutio's death scene with its shifts in mood and tempo with perfection. Janine Parker was a captivating and most energetic Nurse. Karla Kovatch as Lady Capulet was appropriately caught and torn, with good theatrical technique.

Most fascinating and riveting was the performance by Raymond Lukens as Lord Capulet. Mr. Lukens is a seasoned performer and balletomane and has been affiliated with major national and international Ballet Companies for quite some time. He is a teacher and ballet master and has taught for ABT, Ailey School, and Juilliard, as well as directed his own school in Italy. Mr. Lukens, sporting a large gray wig, was the quintessential, controlling father, who is so sure he knows what's best for his daughter's future, until he loses his battle with fate. He was emotionally destroyed in the final scene, as he found his daughter and her lover/husband entwined in ultimate death, in contrast to the first, perceived death. Michael Johnson was a willful Paris and a strong Death Figure, and Arthur Leeth, as Duke of Verona, had a commanding presence. Dean Vollick was an efficient Friar Laurentius.

Toer van Schayk created the perfectly spare sets so requisite to van Dantzig's spare conception. Lisa Pinkham created the artful ambiance with her evocative lighting. Kudos to Miko Nissinen, Valerie Wilder, Rudi van Dantzig, Boston Ballet, Shakespeare, and Sergei Prokofiev, for their valuable and vibrant contributions to this new ballet experience.

Pollyana Ribeiro as Juliet
Photo by: Eric Antoniou

Simon Ball as Romeo and Paul Thrussell as Mercutio
Photo by: Eric Antoniou

Franco De Vita, Faculty, Boston Ballet School
Photo by Roberta Zlokower

Raymond Lukens backstage
Photo by Roberta Zlokower

Raymond Lukens and Paul Weinrebe
Photo by Roberta Zlokower

Raymond Lukens and Roberta Zlokower
Photo by Paul Weinrebe

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at