I expected very little from the American Repertory Ballet and its production of "Romeo and Juliet," which opened Baltimore's dance season last weekend at the Gordon Center for the Performing Arts. What a pleasant surprise to see that this regional ballet company was above average in all aspects.
From technical ability, choreography, costumes, stage sets and lighting, this Princeton, N.J., ballet company under the artistic direction of Septime Webre was able to animate one of theater's most familiar stories. The company presented it with original style, wit and dramatic flair.
Mr. Webre's depiction of Shakespeare's story set in three acts to the score by Sergei Prokofiev presents us with a Verona replete with rivalries. In the first act, the town's harlots who hang about the town's piazza exchange rude gestures with the local girls who peddle wares for a living. Later, Romeo (Douglas Martin) and his two friends Mercutio (Stephen Shropshire) and Benvolio (Stuart Loungway) exchange more than words with the boys from the rival Capulet family. Mr. Webre's choreography was striking in its enthusiastic freshness and lack of stilted pantomime. The dueling scenes were energetic and well choreographed, and the formal dancing was regal and beautiful.
Juliet, finely performed by Mary Barton, is first presented as TC flighty young girl who delights in tormenting her nursemaid (Rebecca Rosenberg). When Romeo and his friends crash her parents' party, Mr. Webre shows us the fated couple's indelible attraction; Juliet keeps returning to Romeo, no matter what obstacles are placed in her way. Mr. Webre's metaphor shows Juliet as a moth ever circling Romeo's flame.
Mr. Webre's keen ability to capture layers of thought and emotion in simple movements keep the ballet both coherent and entertaining. And the considerable skill of the dancers brings his ideas and characters to life. When Romeo and Juliet dance their pas de deux, a gamut of emotions -- from giddy infatuation to stronger passion -- was visible in the excellent performances of Ms. Barton and Mr. Martin.
Also outstanding was Mr. Shropshire, who as the prank-playing Mercutio gave a delightfully outrageous performance reminiscent of the antics of film star Jim Carrey.
American Ballet Repertory is a jewel of a dance company. I can't help but wonder -- if Princeton, N.J., can have a ballet company, why can't Baltimore?