Monday, March 21, 2005

REVIEW: Houston Ballet's Romeo & Juliet

Image Hosted by
Sara Webb and Simon Ball in Romeo & Juliet
Photo by Jim Caldwell

Shakespeare's tale of feuding families and doomed love remains timeless -- both emotionally and politically. And Ben Stevenson's 1986 ballet based on the tale holds its own amidst other ballet versions bySir Frederick Ashton and John Cranko. The pas de deux flaunt Stevenson's lyrical brilliance, and all the elements that make story ballets seem like museum pieces -- mime, folksy street dances and tedious non-essential interludes -- are kept to a minimum. SergeiProkofiev's delicious score moves the story along with finesse, and David Walker's sets and costumes rise to high-brow opera level as he recreates Verona with the glow of a Renaissance painting. Sara Webb, in her first performance as Juliet, triumphs as the sweet teen finding love. At first, Juliet is all girl and games, amusing her nurse and annoying her mother. Webb captures that pesky teen spirit in her lightness and flightiness, her tiny steps and weightless leaps evoking the carefree nature of adolescence. All this changes when she sets eyes on Romeo, who Simon Ball plays with a stoic, more adult quality. Webb plays up the "coming of age" theme beautifully as her qualities shift, later in the ballet, to those of a woman in bloom. After Romeo mistakenly finds Juliet dead, he hopelessly dances with his limp secret wife. It will make you want to yell, "she's only sleeping!" Webb handles the final moments of waking and finding Romeo dead with the subtle drama that this epic story deserves.

This review originally appeared in The Houston Press.