Taking `Romeo and Juliet' to the edge

Play weaves fate choreography into a must-see offering


October 27, 2006|By MARY JOHNSON | MARY JOHNSON,Special to The Sun

Fusing dance and drama, the Ballet Theatre of Maryland's season opener of Romeo and Juliet put a 21st century edge on Shakespeare's timeless tale of young lovers.

It was danced to Prokofiev's 1938 ballet score -- which some call the greatest ever written -- but given entirely new choreography by artistic director Dianna Cuatto.

She weaves her own fate symbolism of the gypsy fortune teller and tarot card with her joyous depiction of love that featured incredible lifts along with hatred displayed in intense sword fights.

This exciting choreography was set against a backdrop of excellent scenery created by BTM dancer Brian Walker, who served as set designer with Meagan Helman as paint designer. They were joined in set painting and construction by other BTM dancers to make this a true company offering. Bryan Skates was in charge of the production, and the excellent jewel-colored costumes were designed by Natasha Brown, with assistance from parent volunteers. Tommy Light of Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis was responsible for the artful lighting.

Cuatto cast Christi Bleakly and Jessica Fry on successive nights as Juliet, explaining that she saw Shakespeare's characterizations of Juliet as the sun in Bleakly and as the moon in Fry.

On the night I attended the production at Maryland Hall, Bleakly danced Juliet, backing into Romeo at the Capulet ball as if propelled by fate. After a breathtaking pause, they started their first dance together. Alone in her room, she later in despair drank the potion supplied by the priest to simulate death. Bleakly conveyed the lassitude of death, as she remained completely limp when Romeo tenderly lifted her as she lay in the tomb.

Bleakly had great chemistry with her partner, Skates, who made a splendid Romeo. He conveyed Romeo's discovery of love in his dumbstruck reaction to first meeting Juliet. Skates also exhibited power, speed and grace at swordplay, and communicated restraint and desire for understanding without using words. Skates' phenomenal partnering skills included three-stage lifts where he held Bleakly's Juliet in an overhead lift, let go and caught her twice in mid-air, where she seemed to turn in full circle.

In her opening remarks Cuatto asked the audience to interpret this ballet as everything we do has consequences. The death of Romeo and Juliet brings consequences that included peace between the feuding Capulets and Montagues. Throughout the ballet, a strong ensemble filled the marketplace, the ballroom and public ceremonies.

Laura Camille de Guia provided high drama in the role of Mab, the Gypsy of Fate, and Shannon Haines added a mystical quality symbolizing the lovers and the tarot card. The elements of friendship, hate and revenge were personified by Calder Taylor as Juliet's hotheaded cousin Tybalt and Brian Walker as Romeo's courageous friend Mercutio. Taylor and Walker created exceedingly impressive swordplay in a duel that ends with Mercutio's death and Romeo's reluctant revenge by killing Tybalt. Skates proved an able swordsman also.

Anmarie Touloumis was convincing as Lady Capulet, Juliet's mother, gracefully conveying in dance her allegiances, mercy and finally, heartbreak at her daughter's death.

Lord Capulet was played by Al Kessler, who perfectly conveyed the controlling father distraught over the loss of his daughter. As Juliet's nurse, Charlotte McNutt ran the gamut from comedy to tragedy displaying her character's caring and compassionate as well as occasionally playful nature.

Juliet's suitor Paris was impressively danced by Kirk Henning, formerly of Richmond Ballet.

Lovely in costumes that featured deeper hued underskirts topped with filmy pastel overskirts were Juliet's friends, danced by Jessica Fry, Nicole Seitz, Santa Christensen and Ericka Richcrick.

Young dancers Lina Olea, Katie Mosier, Laura Pimpo and Elizabeth Tumelty contributed charm as Capulet children, and Elizabeth Abeles, Tatiana Djordevic, Angela Olea and Katie Wesdyk did the same as Montague children.

Next on tap is Nutcracker scheduled for Dec. 9, 10, 16 and 17 at Maryland Hall for Creative Arts. Tickets may be purchased by calling 410-280-5640.

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