October 01, 2022

Classic tale told sweetly> ‘Romeo and Juliet’ given fresh look

What better celebration of spring than a tale of young lovers? That’s what the Oakland Ballet brought with a performance of “Romeo and Juliet” Friday at the Maine Center for the Arts in Orono. Ah, the exhilaration of love at first sight! Oh, that first kiss between literature’s famed star-crossed lovers! They are, indeed, May love personified.

OK, OK: “Romeo and Juliet” doesn’t have such a happy ending. But the California troupe, led by choreographer Ron Guidi, imagined the whole story in a bold way. Set to music by Sergei Prokofiev, this modern ballet piece presented Romeo and Juliet as youths — invincible, energetic, love-consumed children. When we first caught sight of Juliet, she was giddily dancing in her bedroom with a doll. And Romeo, in his first appearance, was dashing about chasing Roslyn.

When they met at a ball in the Capulets’ home, all action stopped — literally. The two fell smack in love and danced over it as the rest of the attendants froze. Later, in a garden pas de deux, Romeo and Juliet pledged their love. They raced across the stage to each other, twirled, twirled, twirled, frolicked, frolicked, and then burst apart to opposite sides of the stage, fluttered, fluttered, fluttered, repeated this several times, and, finally, after much suspense, rejoined for one gloriously simple kiss.

How dear is young love. So energetic and certain. And don’t we wish we could see more of it done this way?

With the proliferation of overdone sex scenes in films, books and even presentations of Shakespeare, the Oakland Ballet soared to the forefront with a production that dared to be sweet. There was certainly ribaldry in the show, but nothing that went over the top, nothing that you wouldn’t want the kids to see.

The performances, too, were excellent. The girlishly small Jeannene Fogel-Hertz gave Juliet purity and verve, and accurately caught that brief moment between girlhood and womanhood. Ben Barnhart’s Romeo was a charm, and his dancing was among the best in the company. Other knockouts were Mario Alonzo (Mercutio), Michael Lowe (Benvolio), and, mostly for her dramatics, Lara Deans Lowe (Juliet’s nurse).

But you couldn’t find a weak dancer in this strong troupe, which was faithful in form to both the fiercely dynamic rhythms of the Russian music and to the graceful athletics of modern ballet. The style combined folk-dance moves with the high-mindedness of ballet, the angularity of modern dance, and the funk of jazz. With Cathrine Thiele’s deliciously lush costumes — brocaded gowns, silky shawls, decorative hats and peasant dresses — the ballet was a unified thing of beauty that moved through felicity and tragedy with equal ease.

Even at the end, when Juliet and Romeo lay dead, this ballet had a sleekness and poignancy that might have caught the most unromantic watcher with a tear in her eye.

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