FORT WORTH Audiences love Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet because it deftly melds romance, action, comedy and tragedy, all brought together by the Bard’s language.
Those are also the reasons they had to fall in love with Ben Stevenson’s version of Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo & Juliet when the work opened Texas Ballet Theater’s 2013-14 season over the weekend at Bass Hall, in a gorgeous production designed by David Walker (sets and costumes) and Tony Tucci (lighting).
The story is famous as a tale of forbidden love between youths in warring families, and for the fact that it doesn’t turn out well for them or several other major characters — the play’s body count is six.
The dialogue between the title characters is some of most beautiful in the English language, and though those moments between the ballet company’s Lucas Priolo and Carolyn Judson (seen in the performance reviewed) were stunning — the pas de deux in the garden of the balcony scene has to be one of the most romantic moments in all of ballet — Stevenson made the rest of the play, with the crowd, ballroom and fight scenes, just as, if not more, memorable.
Romeo’s friendship with Mercutio (Thomas Kilps) and Benvolio (Simon Wexler) was a close brotherhood, with the trio always looking out for one another and acting more their age — teenagers, after all — more than you usually see in the play. The crowd scenes at the marketplace and the ballroom were filled with visuals of interest — Stevenson is a master at crowd scenes — and lovely spots of dancing for the corps (in top form, working nicely in sync) and for characters who aren’t in the play, such as the Three Harlots (Robin Bangert, Michelle LaBoeuf, Katelyn Clenaghan, all mining some comedy).
And then there were the fight scenes, led by fight coach Brian Byrnes. All the sword fights were well-done — remarkable feats of movement, filled with speed, athleticism, danger and urgency.
In supporting roles, Anna Donovan got big laughs as the Nurse, Lady Capulet (alternated by Carmen Mathe and Julie Gumbinner) had some stirring moments, and Carl Coomer created a Paris with whom you could empathize.
That final scene in the story is well-known, and it’s hard to imagine anything replacing Shakespeare’s words when Romeo finds Juliet in the tomb, thinking she is dead. But here, as he carried her body and danced with it — Judson’s grace even as a limp corpse is astounding — it’s all the poetry you need.
All this is aided by Prokofiev’s lush music. It’s too bad we still have to hear it in a recorded version, but there is a glimmer of hope for the return of live music at Texas Ballet Theater, as the spring production of Swan Lake will feature the Fort Worth Symphony playing Tchaikovsky. Hopefully next time the troupe stages Romeo and Juliet again, live music will take it to the next level.