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Tell any ballet enthusiast you are on the way to see "Romeo and Juliet," and they'll immediately ask "which one" and "who" is dancing the lead roles. This is a ballet whose history breeds as strong of partiality as the feuding families in the timeless love story themselves.
But whether your allegiance is to John Cranko's version, wrapping up its Valentine-season run this weekend on stage at the Capitol Theater by Ballet West, or the best-known adaptation in the U.S. by Kenneth MacMillan, or the 1940 Leonard Lavrovsky version by the Bolshoi recently viewed across North America on the Ballet in Cinemas series, it is undeniable that Ballet West's first-cast with Beckanne Sisk's Juliet and Chase O'Connell's Romeo will steal your heart.
Since joining Ballet West II as a technical whiz kid in 2010 and rising through the ranks to principal this season, Sisk has evolved into an expressive dancer who takes time to phrase the movement, play with it and to be the character. The on-stage sparks between her and O'Connell's Romeo could be attributed to their long-term romance off stage, but that would be selling the two of them short. Separately, each conveys a composite of youthful impetuousness and impending reality. Together in the three central pas de deux, each fleetingly lifts the other from despair, resisting the inevitable doubt and anguish.
Much like Shakespeare's play, Cranko gets to the street brawl right away in Act I. And while the set seems almost too big for the stage, the scene purposefully forces the heightened tension between the House of Capulet and the House of Montague to ignite. Cranko's first act feels clunkier than MacMillan's until the closing Balcony pas de deux, which features lifts and dramatic finesse far more organic and original than MacMillan's choreography.
Act II opens with vibrancy and the Carnival Dancers, particularly demi-soloist Lindsay Duerfeldt Bond, move as a group around the stage as if pulled by a strange sort of gravity.
Soloist Adrian Fry is such a charming Count Paris that it's hard not to root for him as a partner for Juliet. And though this version doesn't give Lady Capulet much to work with when she encounters her daughter seemingly dead in her bed, Emily Adams gives a pulsating performance of despair as she hovers over her nephew Tybalt's dead body stroking it in disbelief, and rides the funeral bier with his body off stage.
Cranko's version also minimizes Tybalt's role, whereas Lavrovsky offers a complex character whose actions are vital to the series of tragic twists.
The closing scene of the ballet is in the Capulet Crypt. One of the most intimate moments of the ballet is when Romeo lies down next to Juliet on the funeral bier, and as he did in Act I in her bedroom, takes a single strand of her long-flowing hair in his fingers and gently lets it fall.
Throughout the ballet, Prokofiev's score reflects the elation of love and heartbreak of tragedy. But the dark orchestration of the "love theme" that closes the ballet signals the final acceptance of their fate. "For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo."
'Romeo and Juliet'
Kudos to Ballet West for offering audiences another version of the ballet than we have previously seen. Individual performances give meaning and definition to this well known story of star-crossed lovers.
Reviewed • Friday, Feb. 12
When • Continues Saturday and Feb. 18-20, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, and Feb. 17, 7 p.m.; with 2 p.m. matinees Feb. 14 and 20
Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $20-$97; artsaltlake.org or call 801-869-6920
Running time • Two hours and 15 minutes, with two 10 minute intermissions.
Warm Ups • Members of the artistic staff host discussions one hour before each performance. Get information on the evening's program including background on the ballet, choreographer and other behind-the-scenes facts. Included with admission.