I had misgivings upon learning that Carolina Ballet’s production of Romeo & Juliet would be presented in the A. J. Fletcher Opera Theater instead of Raleigh Memorial Auditorium. After all, this is a full-length ballet, which typically calls for a large cast, multiple scene changes, and dancing on a grand scale. The choice of venue also foretold that the dramatic score by Sergei Prokofiev would be recorded, instead of being performed live by the North Carolina Symphony musicians.
I will say up front that I missed the live performance of the music. The score for Romeo & Juliet is powerful and passionate, and a personal favorite of mine. To my ears, the recorded version seemed a little flat.
As for mounting Romeo & Juliet on the smaller stage of the Fletcher Opera Theater, I think the production, which was choreographed by the company’s artistic director, Robert Weiss, worked just fine in the venue, which actually served the more intimate scenes quite well. The only scene that seemed a bit “crowded” was the ballroom scene at the Capulet house.
Thomas Mauney’s set, anchored by a large set piece of columns, arches, and stairways that spanned the entire width of the upstage area, was both effective and flexible. Sheer curtains that were lowered for certain scenes were transformed by Ross Kolman’s evocative lighting effects. The costumes, which were courtesy of Pennsylvania Ballet, were sumptuous and elegant. I loved the pearl trim on the ball gowns and tunics for the masquerade scene.
The opening night performance of Romeo & Juliet on March 13th featured principal dancers Marcelo Martinez and Lara O’Brien in the title roles. When I first saw the casting, I was skeptical. I had seen Martinez and O’Brien perform together on two previous occasions; and while both had acquitted themselves beautifully from a technical standpoint, I had felt little chemistry in the pairing and was doubtful of their ability to generate the passion and depth of feeling required by the roles. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. The chemistry between the pair could be felt all the way to the back of the theater, and they were a pleasure to watch.
Marcelo Martinez’s Romeo was all youthful ardor and vigor. His jumps and leaps soared, and his batterie was precise and clean. O’Brien’s first entrance was full of such light and child-like innocence that I felt I was looking at a completely different dancer than the one I’d previously seen perform. The word “winsome” came to mind more than once, and Lara O’Brien was every bit of that. Her phrasing within the choreography was breathtaking at times, and her Juliet was utterly charming.
Overall, the rest of the casting was strong. Pablo Javier Perez and Yevgeny Shlapko were excellent as Mercutio and Benvolio, respectively; their trio with Romeo was one of the highlights of the evening. Eugene C. Barnes III gave us a strong Tybalt, and Adam Schiffer’s Paris was every inch the handsome, desirable suitor. Margot K. Martin, as Juliet’s nurse, struck exactly the right balance of humor and warmth the character needs; and her interactions with Juliet were appropriately motherly and affectionate.
On the other hand, Marin Boieru’s Friar Laurence seemed a little too subdued, even for a humble friar; and Dameon Nagel never quite achieved the commanding presence his role as Escalus, the Prince of Verona, demands. Perhaps, it was the floppy hat his character wears; but he held his head low for much of the time he was onstage, and his pantomime lacked the power and strength the character dictates.
Tyler Walters, as Lord Capulet, was every inch the dignified nobleman, honoring the dictates of the Prince of Verona and playing the gracious host and proud father at the masked ball. However, in the scene in which Paris is presented to Juliet as her future fiancé, Walter’s Capulet showed little fondness for Juliet, only anger at her refusal. Instead of a nuanced portrayal of a loving father whose patience is ultimately stretched by his daughter’s refusal to marry, I saw only an angry, domineering parent. Later, when Juliet is discovered by her parents and presumed dead, I never quite felt his anguish.
Robert Weiss’ Romeo & Juliet tells the story of the star-crossed lovers with elegance and energy, and I enjoyed the choreography very much, with one exception. Prokofiev’s music for the pas de deux in the bedroom scene is quite beautiful — passionate, tender, poignant. This is the “morning-after” scene, following Romeo and Juliet’s one and only night together, after which the lovers must part, due to Romeo’s banishment. Although Weiss’s choreography for the scene has its moments, it doesn’t match the level of passion and heartache that the music evokes.
Although lifts are part and parcel of nearly every ballet pas de deux, Weiss’s choreography is so full of lifts (many of which had Juliet held upside down for extended periods or swung low at Romeo’s waist level) that there is little opportunity for the two dancers to build the passion of the scene within the context of the choreography. Only when the dancers stopped dancing and shifted into pantomime — embracing, touching hands, looking into one another’s eyes — did they seem to truly connect. It seemed to me that Lara O’Brien spent a lot of the scene being tossed and flung and dragged around the floor by Marcelo Martinez — not a good position from which to respond to or make much of a connection with one’s partner. Under the circumstances, however, both O’Brien and Martinez did an admirable job of conveying the lovers’ simultaneous joy and heartache.
Although Carolina Ballet’s production of Romeo & Juliet lacks live music and is being presented in a more intimate venue than might be expected, it succeeds overall and is most definitely worth seeing. The dancing is, as always, top-notch; and Raleigh has reason to be very proud of its homegrown company.
SECOND OPINION: March 14th Raleigh, NC Arts View NC photographic review by Denise Cerniglia: http://artsviewnc.com/2014/03/14/carolina-ballets-romeo-and-juliet/; and March 13th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment photographic review by Denise Cerniglia: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2014/03/carolina-ballets-romeo-and-juliet/.
The Carolina Ballet presents ROMEO & JULIET at 8 p.m. March 14, 2 and 8 p.m. March 15, and 2 p.m. March 16, 2 and 8 p.m. March 22, 2 p.m. March 23, 2 and 8 p.m. March 29, and 2 p.m. March 30 in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601; and 8 p.m. May 3 at the Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco District.
Raleigh Shows: $32.50-$78.00 (including fees).
Durham Show: $38.50-$92.15 (including fees).
Carolina Ballet Box Office: 919-719-0900.
DPAC Box Office: 919-680-2787, , or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/how_to_buy_tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787, Raleigh Shows: http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/836166, and Durham Show: http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/804245.
Durham: http://www.carolinaballet.com/program/romeo-and-juliet-dpac and http://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/carolina-ballets-romeo-and-juliet.
VIDEO PREVIEWS (YouTube channel): https://www.youtube.com/user/CBcarolinaballet.
PRESENTER: http://www.carolinaballet.com/, https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaBallet, and https://twitter.com/CarolinaBallet.
A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/venue/fletcher-opera-theater (directions: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/directions and parking: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/parking).
Durham Performing Arts Center: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, and https://twitter.com/DPAC (directions: http://www.dpacnc.com/plan_your_visit/getting_here and parking: http://www.dpacnc.com/plan_your_visit/parking_guide).
Romeo & Juliet (1938 ballet): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romeo_and_Juliet_%28Prokofiev%29 (Wikipedia).
Sergei Prokofiev (Russian composer, 1891-1953): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergei_Prokofiev (Wikipedia).
Robert Weiss (artistic director and choreographer): http://www.carolinaballet.com/pages/staff-directory-entry/robert-weiss (Carolina Ballet bio) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Weiss_%28choreographer%29 (Wikipedia).
Viki Atkinson danced professionally in musical theater for a number of years and later shifted her focus to choreographing for theater. Locally, she danced in the North Carolina Theatre productions of Cabaret, My Fair Lady, Man of La Mancha, Oklahoma!, and West Side Story. Additional performance credits include Kathy in Company, Peggy in Godspell, and the title role in Gypsy. Later, Atkinson lent her dance expertise to Spectator Magazine, serving as chief dance critic from 1987 to 1999. She also holds a degree in Dance Education from UNC-Greensboro; and she has taught extensively in a variety of settings, including Meredith College, Virginia Commonwealth University, Appomattox Regional Governor’s School (Petersburg, VA), and the School of Richmond Ballet. She was also on the faculty of the Raleigh School of Ballet for 10 years and directed the dance program at Martin Middle School for four years. Viki Atkinson recently returned to Raleigh after living in Richmond for six years, and is thrilled to be back in North Carolina! To read more of Viki Atkinson’s reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/viki-atkinson/.