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Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013

Milwaukee Ballet’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a Match For Shakespeare

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Trusting us to silence our mobile devices, Michael Pink replaced his customary preshow speech with jolting thunderbolts and a recording of Shakespeare’s spoken prologue to Romeo and Juliet. Against the dread-inducing opening of Sergei Prokofiev’s great score, movingly rendered throughout the night by the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra under conductor Andrews Sill, the star-crossed lovers appeared in a symbolic tableau though a scrim of human figures painted as if in blood.

Next, a dancing crowd of happy villagers, the kind you always seem to find in traditional story ballets, filled a Renaissance Verona square with high-spirited high jinks. Among them, Davit Hovhannisyan (Romeo), Alexandre Ferreira (Mercutio) and Marc Petrocci (Benvolio) instantly attracted attention, their warm, precise characterizations and perfect dancing bolstered by joyfully lewd choreography. Then the Capulets arrived. The dancing rapidly devolved into a long sequence of brawling by both men and women that escalated in scale and brutality until you could almost forget this was a ballet.

Pink’s choreographic style demands fine acting and he has the dancers for it. I wonder if any other company could embody this ballet as effectively. The stretches of dumb show could be embarrassing if performed without the complete connection to character these dancers brought to every step and turn of the head. When the spectacular moves arrive, as in every pas de deux involving Juliet and many of the men’s sequences, they seem to spring from the intensity of the characters’ experiences. Thus, Shakespeare’s language is effectively replaced.

Nowhere was this more apparent on opening night than in the performance of Luz San Miguel as Juliet. As in the play, Juliet is the ballet’s soul and she has the hardest scenes. San Miguel made the range and depth of Juliet’s inner life visible in every muscle and sinew. It’s a privilege to witness a dancer so expressive, so at one with a role. As Romeo, Hovhannisyan was equally transparent in his scenes with her, true to his character and dancing with mature grace and easy virtuosity.

I’ll also treasure the memory of the performances by Ferreira and Petrocci, along with those of Susan Gartell (Lady Capulet), Nadia Thompson (Nurse), Ryan Martin (Tybalt), Tim O’Donnell (Paris), Rolando Yanes (Friar Laurence) and Denis Malinkine (Lord Capulet).

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