Program VIII SF Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet

6 May

May Day, May Day, May Day – San Francisco Ballet opened Helgi Tomasson’s Romeo and Juliet at San Francisco’s Opera House with the incredible costumes and set by Hans Jens Worsae, some stalwarts in their accustomed roles and several new ones, and, of course, that score by Sergei Prokofiev.

I would swear the some of the choreography had been altered; such imaginings the curse of an imprecise memory and seeing a number of same named productions by different companies. Here there are so many wonderful touches, from the Verona town square arousing from dawn to early morning. I do not remember the rose window of the church being illuminated, or reflected either in the scene where Romeo and Juliet are wed by Friar Lawrence, or when Juliet comes rushing for guidance from that pivotal ecclesiastical figure.

When the company first produced the ballet, Rita Felciano and Eric Hellman organized a symposium around the production, mentioning the original production by Vana Psota in Brno, Slovakia just before World War II and the German takeover of the short-lived republic of Czechoslovakia. Juliets then in the company also were interviewed.

The key speaker for me, however, was an historian who had researched the demographics of Renaissance Italy, basing his findings on the data available in Florence, and, presumably, Tuscany. He found a substantial number of
single parent households, the woman in charge of young children, the husband deceased, documents recording his age at least a decade or two older than the widow. The historian, and forgive my failure to identify him at this juncture, concluded that the young men went off to war, the older men, survivors of conflicts, married the dewy young damsels, and that romance, let alone marriage between age-alike young men and women was unthinkable. Ergo, why is County Paris clearly a stripling in the figure of Steven Morse? Why not Jim Sohm or Reubin-Martin-Cintas as more historically accurate, whose name also implies his possession of quite a spread of hectares?

That harangue completed, I have only praise for the pairing of Val Caniparoli and Sofiane Sylve as the Capulet parents, the easy grandeur of Caniparoli and the intense swirling elegance of Sylve were exactly right. Sherri Le Blanc, making a debut as The Nurse, seemed less lusty but equally caring as Juliet’s Nurse, and as Tybalt, Anthony Vincent (heretofore named Spaulding) was elegant, sinister, a calculating figure, clearly frustrated by Lord Capulet’s insistence on politeness within the family palace.

When the House of Montague appeared, Jeffrey Lyons and Lacey Escabar seemed slightly defensive in the power contest, given to spirit more than concerned with tangible spoils. In Mercutio, Taras Domitro seemed to personify this, less an older pal to Romeo than an impulsive intuitive with vast technical gifts. As Benvolio, Hansuke Yamamoto was required to bring some gravitas to the merriment which he did with elevation and elan. In Carlos Quenedit, there was Romeo you might have seen with his gang, sporting a Giants ballcap turned backwards, relaxing around a motorbike or with a group of mechanics, likeable, young, competent, as innocent of poetry as he was on the mark as Basile in Don Quixote.

The role of Verona’s Prince has always been well served by Martin Pistone, cutting a figure of physical power with the will to use it. Dores Andre and Dana Genshaft made slender, spirited, clearly street-wise harlots, Andre’s discovery of Mercutio’s imminent death particularly sharp. The trio of acrobats, Noriko Matsuyama, Francisco Mungamba and Wei Wang were adept in their assignment, Wang’s strength an interesting contrast to Mungamba’s flexibility and Matsyama’s pertness. Mercutio’s death scene gave Domitro the chance to demonstrate dramatic power, combined with his prodigious technique, showing what his dramatic gifts can provide. I wonder if he might make a better Romeo.

Sarah Van Patten first danced Juliet when she was 16 with the Royal Danish Ballet, before joining San Francisco Ballet. Her partner prior to Carlos Quenedit was Pierre-Francois Vilanoba; I confess to missing him. Her interpretation possesses a gossamer dusting of impulse and emotion; the initial meeting and the balcony scenes were explorations to be followed by the culmination in the early morning final pas de deux. Particularly impressive was Van Patten’s fateful behavior in her bedroom with the senior Capulets and Paris. The Capulets’ insensitive ploughing ahead with nuptial plans despite Tybalt’s death, more implacably so by Lady Capulet – the sweep of her skirt as telling here as in the ballroom, Sylve’s face marvelously stoical, her gestures and movements conveying it all, pulling the velvet yardage away from Juliet’s grasp. Helgi Tomasson’s production, visually splendid, is both a challenge to the company and a pleasure to its audience.

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