"Romeo and Juliet"
San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA
March 6, 2012
by Rita Felciano
Copyright © Rita Felciano 2012
It's been eighteen years since Helgi Tomasson has created his own version of the always beloved "Romeo and Juliet." Over time, the small adjustments that come with revivals have gradually streamlined the production until today this perennial is about as good as it can get. Beautifully cast with strong, articulate dancers even in minor roles -- Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun as a lovely Rosaline, fight instructor Martino Pistone as an Old Testament Prince of Verona, Pauli Magierek as a high-strung Lady Montague -- SFB's dancers gave the work a superb opening night performance. Small ensembles such as the trio outside the Capulet's home and the mandolin dance in Juliet's bedroom poured out as if from one mold. Stellar inputs came from everyone, including the orchestra under Martin West, who handled the masterfully orchestrated score but otherwise more than a little problematic score with verve and finesse.
The thrust of the two fast paced, but airy market scenes had a filmic continuity to them. The wedding felt almost like an interlude. Whether partying or fighting, the lively town people's dances -- with little spurts of solos and duets here and there -- suggested a vital community even when at odds with each other. Courtney Elizabeth and Shannon Roberts' harlots with big hair, big skirts and big kicks, were very much part of this society. The acrobats (Dores Andre and the Stewarts, Benjamin and Matthew), however, introduced a note of exoticism because Prokofiev had given them an abrasively nasal music.
The two lenghty and intricately shaped duels arose straight of out of the characters. Nedvgin, who is becoming as strong an actor as he is a superb dancer, could not have been more of a contrast to Daniel Deivison's fabulously hate-eaten Tybalt. His turns and circular trajectories exploded like rockets; Deivison, who was spiteful even to Lady Capoulet, danced his part with an icy rage. There was something demonic about this Tybalt; as if he had single-handedly nurtured inside himself the the source of Verona's century's old, but barely remembered conflicts.
I wondered to what extent Maria Kotchekova and Boada were aware of their performance's impact on the audience. I do not recall having sat through evenings of ballet during which audiences held their breath for such long stretches.
Boada is a good, strong performer with a male dancer's appetite for space. As Romeo, he partnered Kotchekova excellently. When she sat on top of the one handed lift, she looked like a tremulous little bird secure in her "nest". Boada tends more towards reserve than pronounced expressiveness. His Romeo is a nobleman, good friend and clearly smitten with Rosaline's gentle elegance. Encountering Juliet who comes to him as if carried by the wind, he is thunderstruck. Cut off as if a curtain had dropped is Tomasson's charmingly choreographed flirtation among the "boys" and Rosaline. We all knew what was coming, and yet the two dancers made the world stand still. Lovely to see was how his ardency for Juliet opened Boada up; dancing the role with Kotchekova, probably, was a big help. Still he is not the intrinsically romantic dancer that makes for an ideal Romeo.
Kotchekova, however, was born to the part. Tiny with long tapered limbs, a gymnast's back, huge eyes and a frown if needed, her Juliet did not so much grow into a woman as she revealed herself as who she is: curious, yet shy, gentle but impetuous, fearful yet unmoving. Technically, she was a wonder in the way she threw herself at Boada in one lift after another. At one point she kept her feet running even though as she was in the air; they looked like a beating heart. Kotchekova also had a tiny shy-girl hand-to-cheek gesture that changed meaning over the course of the evening but accompanied her to the tomb. Yet her most moving moment came in the confrontation scene of the bedroom. With her arms hanging, her shoulders drooping, she was perfectly still but the weight of her decision seemed to shrink her in front of our eyes. Finally, collapsing to the floor, she broke into sobs.