Despite its being a “tale of woe,” The Washington Ballet’s new production of John Cranko’s “Romeo and Juliet” is quite a delightful affair. The show’s exquisite dancing and real emotion deliver on the romantic promise of Shakespeare’s tragedy.
John Cranko’s ballet, originally staged in 1962, is based on William Shakespeare’s play about the star-crossed lovers. This staging locates the story in its original 16th-century Italian setting, and includes the same plot and characters: in fair Verona, the powerful and dynastic Montague and Capulet families vie for power. Amidst their occasionally violent clashes, Romeo, the heir to the Montague house, and Juliet, the daughter of Lord Capulet, fall in love, a turn of events that has tragic consequences for both themselves and their families.
One of the show’s many strengths is its leads. Corey Landolt as Romeo and Venus Villa as Juliet are sensitive and eminently believable as the young couple, combining technical mastery with real emotion. Villa expertly communicates, through characterization and movement, Juliet’s journey from a tentative ingénue to a young woman, confident and in love. She is partnered very well by Landolt’s expressive performance as Romeo, showing the young hero as passionate but pacific. He’s a lover, not a fighter (for the most part).
The main pair’s lovely duets are well-supported by the show’s incredible production values. Susan Benson’s set, complete with stone arches and draped classical statues, beautifully realize the production’s 16th-century Italian setting. A ballroom scene in the first Act is a visually lavish masterwork of technical design, featuring masked figures draped in vivid red and orange silks. Prokofiev’s bombastic, immensely enjoyable score underlines the assembly’s imperious and self-important grandeur.
The show’s exquisite dancing and real emotion deliver on the romantic promise of Shakespeare’s tragedy.
Robert Thomson’s lighting deserves special mention, especially for the seminal balcony scene, the first private meeting of the young lovers. Thomson’s twilight illumination of the shadowed set creates a painting-like dreamscape for their duet.
Cranko’s choreography, staged by Jane Bourne, leans into the energy and comedy of Shakespeare’s original text. The dynamism of the show is kept high by the diversity of dancing; from the leads’ intimate duets to ensemble line dancing and even some very fine comic tumbling. The tension between Jonathan Jordan’s mischievous Mercutio and Brooklyn Mack’s fierce Tybalt leads to a highly compelling, and pivotal, fight scene.
As the source material warns, though, “these violent delights have violent ends,” and so this lively production eventually makes its way to a somber, and soulful, finish. Nevertheless, the show, which opened at The Kennedy Center on Valentine’s Day, leaves the impression of a highly entertaining and superlatively-danced love story.
Running Time: Three acts running about 2 hours with two 20-minute intermissions.
Advisory: Some simulated violence.
‘Romeo and Juliet’ is playing through Sunday, Feb. 18. For tickets or more information, click here.