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Washington Ballet's new-classic 'Romeo and Juliet'

Gian Carlo Perez (Romeo), Rinat Imaev (Friar Lawrence), EunWon Lee (Juliet) in Romeo and Juliet, Washington Ballet
(photo by Gene Schiavone)

If Julie Kent's first season leading Washington Ballet reached its apogee with a poetic Giselle, this season has surpassed it with a revival of John Cranko's choreography of Romeo and Juliet. Kent addressed the audience just before the curtain went up, recalling her own performances as a young dancer in this work with the Joffrey Ballet. Made in 1962 for Stuttgart Ballet, this version hews close to Prokofiev's music, without the changes to that gorgeous score and the anti-aristocratic distortions of the Soviet version by Leonid Lavrovsky, still being performed by the Mariinsky Ballet.

Thursday night's title pairing was led by EunWon Lee, the brilliant young dancer who came from Korea to dance for Julie Kent. She was flighty and headstrong, defying her domineering parents, putting the proud Paris of Tamás Krizsa in his place, and just beautiful to watch, becoming air-borne en pointe and in lifts in the presence of Romeo, as if on cloud nine. The latter, danced by Gian Carlo Perez, did not quite measure up in grace and beauty, although he was physically an affecting partner. In the supporting cast, the fiery Tybalt of Rolando Sarabia and especially the flippant Mercutio of Andile Ndlovu made the tragic end of the second act one of the highlights of the evening.

Other Reviews:

Sarah L. Kaufman, In “Romeo and Juliet,” the Washington Ballet unleashes a star (Washington Post, February 16)
Cranko's choreography, staged here by Jane Bourne and supervised by Reid Anderson, is less rigid and classically oriented than the more familiar Lavrovsky version, but each gesture, movement, and facial expression perfectly aligned the music with emotional and dramatic points. The crowd scenes are particularly fun, as the Act I clash between the two families spread through the entire town, with people throwing brightly colored fruits and vegetables across the stage at each other.

The scenery -- moss-covered stone structures, a moonlit night vista -- and costumes, particularly lavish for the masques in the ball scene, were designed by Susan Benson. Beatrice Affron, music director of Pennsylvania Ballet, led firmly and capably in the pit. The contributions from the renascent Washington Ballet Orchestra varied widely, from strong solos by concertmaster Oleg Rylatko and trumpeter Chris Gekker to less secure examples. The score's exotic sounds were a mix, too, with canned electronic organ, fine tenor saxophone playing, and something rustic and clanging for the numbers with the two mandolins. Although most of the woodwind and brass parts were present, the smallish string sound fell short in the fuller parts of the score. Little matter -- this is the way ballet is supposed to be, with the flexibility of live music unfolding in response to the dancers.

This production runs through February 18 at the Kennedy Center Opera House, with various casts.

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