Romeo & Juliet
San Francisco Ballet

For full program notes, tickets, and schedule : San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, CA

RUN: May 1-10, 2015
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(May 3, 2:00pm, 2015)

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San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet. (© Erik Tomasson)

One of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, Romeo & Juliet has graced the stage in various forms for nearly 500 years. The Prokofiev ballet traces its origins to a premiere in 1938. San Francisco Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet is choreographed by Helgi Tomasson, known for his career with New York City Ballet under Mr. B himself. The story is universal—young love struggling to survive in a cruel world. This production is lush and dynamic with rich Tuscan colors and intricate brocades. Sweeping warm tones with hauntings of complementary blue inhabit the stage, thanks to the vision of Designer Jens-Jacob Worsaae. Particularly stunning is the masque ball of Act I, with hues of intense orange and coral representing House Capulet.

Yuan Yuan Tan as Juliet capered in youthful exuberance, clambering up stairs two at a time, rushing about as only a teenage girl could, entirely becoming her character. Balancing the vivacity of Juliet was a more somber Romeo. San Francisco Ballet alum Vito Mazzeo flew in from the Dutch National Ballet to portray Romeo, and it was a joy to see him back on stage at the Opera House. He has a careless elegance about his movements that makes even the most difficult steps seem natural in their flow. He glided across the stage as a mature love for Juliet, making his passionate retribution for Mercutio all the more tragic. The balcony scene was mesmerizing in grace, capturing the timidity and excitement of first love.

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Carlos Quenedit in Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet. © Erik Tomasson

Benvolio (Hansuke Yamamoto) and Mercutio (Gennadi Nedvigin) bound about, relishing life in playful abandon, until reality strikes in the final duel. They bring a buoyant energy to the production as a balance to the more serious altercations between the two houses. Of especial note is Anthony Vincent, who combines acting ability with ferocious dancing as Tybalt.

The dancing is superb in this production, but the story of Romeo & Juliet hinges on its fight scenes. Directed by Martino Pistone in collaboration with the choreographer, they are unfortunately extremely theatrical, taking away from the emotional depth of the dancing. Combatants flail wildly, leaving themselves completely open, dangling their bucklers and daggers like unused fans. Any first year fencing student could defeat them in a single move, and would know to keep elbows in and not leave prime targets so exposed. Despite the distracting fight scenes, the street scenes are a joy to watch, filled with fascinating vignettes and amusing encounters. Kimberly Braylock and Lee Alex Meyer-Lorey flaunt their assets as the Harlots, constantly on the move in their amorous intentions, and leaping with tireless enthusiasm.

This production is a visual feast of Renaissance Verona, filled with intrigue, heartbreak, and glorious dancing. Fall in love with Romeo & Juliet again thanks to San Francisco Ballet’s spectacular production.