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Review: 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's tragic lovers get up on their toes in Ballet San Jose production

IT IS amazing that Karen Gabay is still dancing Juliet. Back in 1986, Dennis Nahat choreographed the title role for his production of the Shakespearian classic especially for the then-young ballerina. Gabay is now in her 40s, and the longtime Ballet San Jose principal dancer continues to be as sprightly and emotive as ever in the company’s latest production of “the greatest love story ever told.” In response to the economy, this season has the venerable ballet company going for large-scale, opulent, romantic, get-butts-in-the-seats productions. Romeo and Juliet is precisely this, and what’s wrong with that? Nahat and the late David Guthrie’s vision of renaissance Verona and its leaping, spinning, rapier-wielding inhabitants is still holding up nicely. Despite the depressing overtones of the original play, it remains one of Ballet San Jose’s most enjoyable shows.

This is a production that inherently requires a heightened level of acting from its principal dancers. Gabay keeps the dancing fresh and the emotion raw in her portrayal of the ill-fated daughter of Capulet. Her 100-watt smile flies like an arrow to the heart. She embodies an almost childlike fervor that becomes tinged with despair. Her arabesques were steady, her flexibility and fouetté turns still impressive. Gabay and attractive Cuban danseur Maykel Solas meshed well as partners. Solas pulled off the complex, acrobatic lifts required in their pas de deux balcony scene with confidence, the lovers expressing their newfound passion through movement.

Tybalt was well danced as an intimidating, menacing villain by Willie Anderson, while artistic director Nahat himself took the stage as the sympathetic Friar Laurence. The pint-sized Ramon Moreno was a highlight of the show as the jaunty jokester Mercutio. Moreno will take on the role of Romeo alongside Maria Jacobs-Yu’s Juliet later this week, but on opening night he appeared to relish this showboating role. Some of the best dancing of the evening came from his portrayal of Romeo’s reckless, mandolin-strumming best friend, particularly his drawn-out fight and eventual death scene in the Verona square. Nahat effectively used the lively corps members as flirting Gypsies, fruit-throwing peasants and courtly dancing nobility throughout the highly recognizable score by Prokofiev. The live orchestra conducted by Dwight Oltman was first-rate, as were the lavish sets and headdress-heavy costuming.

My only grumble, beside what appeared to be a slight fumble with scenery in the third act, was the length of the production. This particular incarnation of Romeo and Juliet clocked in at some three hours. In an effort to keep the story moving, it would be good to cut the maypole spinning and some of Juliet’s bedroom drama so that everyone can get home by midnight.

ROMEO AND JULIET, presented by Ballet San Jose, plays Thursday–Saturday, March 4–6 at 8pm, and Sunday, March 7, at 1:30pm at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts at 255 Almaden Blvd, San Jose. Tickets are $30–$85. (408.288.2800)