NEVADA BALLET THEATRE MEETS THE BARD
By: Hal de Becker
Photos by Virginia Trudeau
James Canfield’s 1989 full-length balletic treatment of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet had its Las Vegas premiere recently at The Smith Center.
Though not without flaws it was a compelling production and one for which NBT’s public seemed ready after the numerous programs of plot-less works many of which, although entertaining in the short run, were easily forgotten.
Mr. Canfield’s Shakespearean dance-drama was no such trifle. It was an experience that engaged the minds, senses and emotions of the viewers who with enthusiastic ovations demonstrated their approval and appreciation.
The score by Russian composer Serge Prokofiev (1891-1953) is considered one of ballet’s finest musical realizations of a major literary masterpiece.It not only captures the tale’s elements of youthful love, senseless rivalry, doom and death, it also delineates specific modes of action for a choreographer to follow.
There were two tragedies about this production: One, of course, was Shakespeare’s story itself. The other, that this well-crafted lavishly costumed and pleasingly danced ballet received only two performances.
Little wonder then that some of the acting challenges were not within the reach of all NBT’s dancers despite their unstinting and dedicated efforts.In a work as dramatically demanding as this even a company of more mature, seasoned dancers would still be growing into their roles long after just two performances.
The choreography was consistently enjoyable and responsive to the music although it relied heavily on standard ballet combinations that didn’t always advance the plot. The choreographer conveyed the story however with clarity and imagination through naturalistic mime, narration, tableaux and the integration of sets and action.
One of ballets most effective scenes was the ball at the Capulet palace. An almost martial version of the famed Pillow Dance foreshadowed, in this production, the Capulets’ combative inclinations which eventually doom Romeo and Juliet.
The lugubrious set and lighting lent the proceedings a surrealistic aura especially when the young couple danced their first love duet, lost in a world of their own, and the other guests dissolved into silhouette against an ominous blood red background.
Of the ballet’s many important roles only two received exceptional portrayals: Juliet and Lord Capulet.
The role of Juliet moves in stages from a young girl’s discovery of her developing body to falling in love for the first and only time and ultimately, to suicide rather than being separated from her lover.
Whether danced or acted, or as in this case both, the role calls for an artist of exceptional range.Mary LaCroix was such a one.
She gave a fully developed, nuanced performance and even invested her abstract dance steps with dramatic meaning.She seemed not to dance or act the part but to live it.And for two hours the audience lived it with her.
Kirk Ryder, as Lord Capulet, brought a strong mature presence to the ballet. His portrayal of Juliet’s father whose loving pride for his daughter is replaced by disillusionment and rage when she refuses to marry the man he’s chosen, aroused pity as well as revulsion.
As Romeo, Grigori Arakelyan was graceful and his miming fairly lucid.But he lacked passion and temperament.His representations of love and grief, anger and despair were tepid and to quote Dorothy Parker “ran the gamut from A to B.”
Braeden Barnes as Romeo’s friend Mercutio had all the right moves and poses but not, on opening night anyway, the character’s flamboyant charm. Barrington Lohr as Benvolio, another friend of Romeo’s, was a dancer worth watching for his rapidly improving technique, not his acting.
Ryland Early was convincing as Juliet’s innocuous suitor Paris who when he’s killed by Romeo becomes an innocent victim of the Montague-Capulet rivalry. As Nurse, Juliet’s servant and confidant, Amy Von Handorf was appropriately guileless and amusing.
The role of the sadistic bully Tybalt received a tentative performance from Steven Goforth who was about as menacing as Nurse.Alissa Dale, as Juliet’s mother, mistook endless little hand gestures for acting and her grief at Tybalt’s death failed to convince.
The group dances, particularly for the ladies, were well performed and displayed higher arabesques, cleaner footwork and more secure technique than sometimes seen in the past.From the male ensemble Nicholas Card stood out.
David Heuvel’s true-to-the-period costumes might have come from of a museum of 16th century wardrobe. Some were luxuriant as befitting an aristocratic Italian family of the time; others more typical of the attire worn by ordinary citizens frolicking in a piazza.
Lighting by Peter Jakubowski was particularly impressive in the ballroom and tomb scenes.But during the lovers’ final meeting in Juliet’s bedroom there was no gradual illumination of light to indicate the arrival of dawn.
Dawn, after all, is Romeo’s signal to depart before being discovered and also establishes, in case there was ever any doubt, that he and Juliet have spent the night together. The dimly lit public square scene would also have benefitted from a bit of sunny Italy’s daylight.
The sets, including elegant draperies, by Studio Concepts, Inc. were more suggestive than realistic which was fine in the darkly lit scenes when an elevated black wrought iron walkway extending across and onto the sides of the stage was not fully visible. When it was, the setting resembled a contemporary construction site.
The tender balcony scene suffered the same fate: flanked by two tall panels of ubiquitous black wrought iron, Juliet stood at the open edge of a precipice above large boulders as though she was in a rock quarry not a Renaissance palace. The scene’s intimacy was further disturbed by the distracting intrusion of an oversized moon.
The curtain calls were expertly constructed with ten figures clothed in black robes and hoods overlooking the symmetrically spaced cast. When making their bows the dancers did not completely shed their characters thus preserving the ‘spell’ and enhancing the dignity of the occasion.