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Romeo and Juliet

Ballet San Jose needs all the male dancers it can find for a new version of Shakespeare

ON A Thursday afternoon in an old building on North First Street, Ballet San Jose’s artistic director, Dennis Nahat, is just receiving word that his third Romeo, Maximo Califano, is officially dropping out. “What? Oh no!” he exclaims in a distressed falsetto. Nahat has been running Romeo’s parts with company dancer Rudy Candia in preparation for the worst. Califano broke his foot, and it was uncertain how soon he would recover. Candia will have to learn Romeo’s part in 10 days, but it doesn’t bother him. He’s a professional. “I’ve been watching; since injuries happen all the time,” he says to a co-worker later over lunch.

This weekend, Ballet San Jose will premiere its version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, set to the score by Prokofiev. For such an old story, one that has been interpreted in every artistic medium available, Ballet San Jose is taking measures to make sure its version stands out. The ballet is triple-cast, with three different casts handling different performance dates. All three of the Romeos are from Cuba.

Cuba is a country that takes its ballet very seriously. Home to the largest ballet school in the world, Cuba breeds talent from a young age. “It’s very strict,” says Ramon Moreno, the second Romeo. Moreno has been dancing since the age of 20. “In the United States, we can dance with more freedom. There are more options; different kinds of classical, contemporary dance.” Nahat echoes his sentiment. “You don’t want to ever look like you’re doing some classical, romantic ballet,” he calls to Candia as they run the scene without music. “There’s an urgency to this one.”

And there’s a new urgency, now that Califano’s foot is broken. As Candia steps in, the first Romeo, Maykel Solas, sits in a folding chair off to the side in striped socks, his feet mimicking Candia’s steps. Every so often, he gets up to demonstrate something to Candia, and Candia does his best to match it. And on they go, communicating with barely a word between the two of them.

“The great thing about this ballet is that it is so much more interpretive. That Cirque du Soleil show? It’s not the same,” Solas says, waving his hand toward the window, which faces the tent the latest Cirque du Soleil show is set up under. “This is artistic, not acrobatic.”

Romeo and Juliet is a ballet that relies heavily on storytelling, something that isn’t always a factor in dance. “There’s a lot of pantomime; doing everything big so everyone can see it,” says Candia. “It’s a romantic, free ballet, but there’s a lot of drama,” adds Solas. “It’s not just about technique. Por ejemplo, when Mercutio dies, everyone has to react. When Tybalt dies, everyone has to react.”

“It’s called Romeo and Juliet, but it’s not just Romeo and Juliet. It’s everybody,” says Moreno.

ROMEO AND JULIET, a Ballet San Jose production, plays Feb. 27, March 4–6 at 8pm and Feb. 28 and March 7 at 1:30pm the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Blvd., San Jose. Tickets are $30–$85. (408.288.2800)