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Swanilda

Joffrey Ballet Romeo and Juliet

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Anyone else see the Joffrey's Romeo and Juliet last night? It was Cranko's version, which I had never seen. Maia Wilkins did Juliet and was very good, but Mercutio was my favorite, and Benvolio had the straightest double tours I had ever seen. Sets and costumes wonderful.

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We saw it Sunday afternoon -- the closing performance. Maia Wilkins as Juliet, Willy Shives as Romeo, John Gluckman as Mercutio, Masayoshi Onuki as Benvolio, Michael Levine as Tybalt, and Samuel Pergande as Paris. We liked it so much that we really wished we'd seen an earlier performance, so that we could see it twice!

After seeing this, and Taming of the Shrew last year, I am a confirmed Cranko fan. The choreography accomplishes at least two objectives: 1) it tells the story, and 2) it develops the characters. I don't recall if in the original Shakespeare the Montagues were fun-loving jokesters and the Capulets were dour, stuffy, haughty aristocrats, but Cranko certainly conveys that in his choreography. Too, I like the fact that there's none of that annoying "let's insert a pas de deux for special effect and fireworks" stuff. There's lots of ensemble dancing, and duets occur to further the story: Juliet's introduction to Paris, or when Romeo and Juliet first see each other at the Capulet's ball -- and, of course, several tender love scenes between them.

Neither Wilkins nor Shives are what you'd call young -- indeed, they are both seasoned veterans of the company -- but they carry off the roles of teenage lovers very ably. Wilkins' is positively girlish in her initial appearance -- flighty, giggly, bashful. One of the delights of this ballet is watching Juliet mature. Her dancing transforms from simple and constrained (when she first meets and dances with Paris, her husband-to-be) to more elaborate and connected (in her first brush with Romeo) to sensous (as the relationship develops and peaks). Shives is blessed with a naturally boyish appearance, even at 41 (or thereabouts). He sports a shock of luxurious black hair and an omnipresent, infectious grin. His Romeo was clearly a little more worldly than Juliet, but still young and infatuated. The only time the illusion faltered was in a trio among the carefree Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio. Shives' tours were not quite as crisp, his jumps not as high. He lacked the elasticity of their 15-years-younger bodies. No matter.

This would be a great introduction to ballet for a young or teenage boy. Lots of swordfighting, for one thing (with every clash on the the beat, I might add!) . Lots of attitude. And one of the greatest displays of upper-body strength I've seen at the ballet, as Romeo pulls himself up to kiss Juliet on her balcony, lowers to a flexed-arm hang -- which he holds forever--and then pulls himself up for a second kiss.

Great set, luscious costumes -- except Juliet's shift, whose simplicity contrasted deliberately with the gowns of her elders -- and LIVE MUSIC! I would be remiss if I didn't mention John Gluckman's Mercutio -- athletic, whimsical, carefree. He looks to be a developing talent at the Joffrey.

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