Sunday, February 8, 2004

'Romeo & Juliet' ballet
demands acting, emotion

Morgan's choreography of classic
more than just dancing

By Kathy Valin
Enquirer contributor

Romeo and Juliet
Dimitri Trubchanov and Kristi Capps, who danced in Cincinnati Ballet's production of The Nutcracker in December, turn their talents to Romeo & Juliet next week.
(Rene Micheo)
In classical ballets, tragic love looms large. And ever since Sergei Prokofiev's heartrending music for Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet was scored in 1935, choreographers have been drawn to its doomed lovers like bees to a poisoned hive.

So have ecstatic audiences.

With a new cast and extensive coaching, that's what Cincinnati Ballet is counting on - a repeat of the success Victoria Morgan's world premiere enjoyed two years ago. It comes to the Aronoff Center' Procter & Gamble Hall for four shows (8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and next Sunday).

To bring the ballet's breathtaking emotions to life, the new production will depend on the chemistry between sparkling blonde Kristi Capps and her long-legged cavalier, Dimitri Trubchanov, on opening night. (Tricia Sundbeck and Janessa Touchet will also dance Juliet, both partnered by Anthony Krutzkamp's Romeo.)


1593 Shakespeare writes Romeo & Juliet

1935 Sergei Prokofiev works out music and first scenario

1940 Debut of Romeo & Juliet at Kirov Theatre in Leningrad

1956 The Bolshoi Ballet's Romeo & Juliet in London with Galina Ulanova as Juliet

1957 Inspired by Romeo & Juliet, West Side Story staged by Leonard Bernstein (score), Jerome Robbins and Stephen Sondheim in New York

1958 John Cranko's Romeo & Juliet with ballerinas Carla Fracci and Marcia Haydee

1965 Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo & Juliet with Royal Ballet's Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn

1971 John Neumeier's version for Stadtische Buhnen Ballet, Frankfurt

1976 Michael Smuin's Romeo & Juliet for the San Francisco Ballet

1981 Cincinnati Ballet's Romeo & Juliet with choreography by Yvonee Chouteau and Roman Jasinski to Tchaikovsky

2001 Victoria Morgan's world premiere Romeo & Juliet for Cincinnati Ballet to Prokofiev

Choreographer and artistic director Morgan is confident that her version lives up to the Russian composer's iconic score because of the tremendous amount of background work she and collaborator Eda Holmes did to reinforce their storytelling choices.

Extensive research

"We read Shakespeare's play several times, and saw every movie we could think of connected to the story, including West Side Story,' " Morgan says. The two also spent hours in the Toronto National Ballet Academy Library, researching every established Romeo & Juliet choreographer, from the early Russian interpretations of the '40s and '50s to the famous MacMillan and Cranko versions, from Rudolf Nureyev's interpretation to more contemporary renditions from European choreographers. Both also appeared in San Francisco Ballet's version of the tale.

Finally, Morgan says, came the hardest part. "I had to let go of trying to be like anyone else." Instead, she trusted the evocative music, and her own choreographic skills.

In a rehearsal of the balcony scene, where Juliet encounters Romeo and they swear eternal love, the whippet-thin Morgan has a blue sweater tied around her hips, tiny dangling earrings and a chic red scarf slashed around her slender neck. Yet, she's all business. As she watches and occasionally moves efficiently around the dance studio with Sundbeck and Krutzkamp, she urges them to feel their passion in the music and respond to it not only in the steps, but in their demeanor. "It's as though you can hardly bear it, it's so amazing," she says to Sundbeck.

The two dancers are like young animals at play. With the tenderness and wildness of new love, Krutzkamp, his hair held back by a tied bandana, swings Sundbeck's legs gloriously skyward, and afterwards pauses with a look of rapture on his face as he touches her face and moves toward his Juliet for their first kiss.

In spite of how romantic their dancing looks, it's grueling work for both leads. "Victoria's lifts tend to be slow up, and slow down, and are very demanding," says Krutzkamp, describing the physicality. Sundbeck talks about being emotionally drained after rehearsing the crypt scene, where Romeo dances with her inert figure and, thinking her dead, kills himself.

All performers contribute

Of course, part of the pleasure of Romeo & Juliet is the variety and vitality of the minor characters.

Cast as Mercutio, Romeo's trickster friend, Michael Wardlaw has learned to channel his natural quickness and agility into Morgan's complex characterization. "He shows off outlandish turns. He's macho, has a way with women, likes to push buttons and lives for the moment."

Regina Cerimele-Mechley returns to the role she originated in 2001. Along with Drew Frasier, she created the swordplay for the ballet's action scenes. As Nurse, her broad comedy adds dimension to the drama.

Trained in theater, and a registered fight choreographer, she laughs as she remembers teaching the ballet dancers to fight onstage. The dancers, who rarely danced stage combat, wanted to fight full out, like they danced. After a few near misses, Cerimele-Mechley was able to convince convinced them to "cue the motion way down. They learned to sell the movement, not execute it," she says.

As with the fighting, so with the dancing. In this Romeo & Juliet, it will be the craft of acting that carries the day.

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