Romeo and Juliet

Local Arts Reviews

Romeo and Juliet: Love Minus Words

Bass Concert Hall,

October 27

Teenagers in love. At the heart of it, that's all Romeo and Juliet is: the tale of one more pair of moonstruck adolescents, and aren't those a dime a dozen. So why do we still care about this pair four centuries after they first got lovey-dovey on an Elizabethan stage? Because these teens shared a passion so profound that it bound them together even in death, and because Shakespeare described that passion, and the tragic circumstances that led to their demise, with a poetic grace that has rarely been rivaled. More than anything, that eloquence keeps Romeo and Juliet alive, and for the opening of Ballet Austin's 2001-02 season, Stephen Mills and a gifted company delivered that eloquence -- without ever using the Bard's words.

In this new staging, Mills' keen understanding of the dramatic and skill in crafting expressive movement combined to articulate the range and depth of emotion we associate with Shakespeare's text. We could see the frisky flirtatiousness of youth in group dances with an ever-changing roundelay of partners, the dancers' feet repeatedly breaking free of the earth, their bodies hovering proudly in space. The pride and bravado of fiery young men was there in the vigorous leaps of Chris Hannon's rascally Benvolio, the whipsnake spins and turns of Derek Sakakura's Mercutio, and in the latter's acrobatic duel with Tybalt -- a taut Shell Bauman. Here was the unshakeable tyranny of grief, in the figure of Lady Capulet -- Vlada Chtcheberiako, in a compelling display of emotion -- throwing her heaving body again and again over her fallen nephew. There was the looming fear of the unknown, in shadow figures cast upon the curtain while Juliet contemplated taking a potion that would simulate death. Underpinning all this was the moody score of Sergei Prokofiev, played with authority by the Austin Symphony Orchestra under Peter Bay's direction. In it thundered the ominous portents of tragedy and a strange beauty, describing love in an atmosphere of hate.

That love was richly embodied in Christy Barnard's Juliet and Anthony Casati's Romeo. Barnard, a sunbeam in Tony Tucci's lovely lights, began with giddy girlishness, flitting across the stage to hide behind the skirts of her Nurse (a gently comic Lynne Short in a schooner-sized headpiece), then, upon meeting Romeo, bloomed into womanhood with a succession of ever more graceful, sensuous gestures. Likewise, Casati took us from frolicsome youth in love with love to exultant young man who had found his heart's mate. His lively leaps gave way to long, fluid gestures, gentle and solicitous toward his lady love. In their duets, the pair projected a bond of genuine intimacy, developing from an ethereally tender balcony scene, with Casati lifting Barnard so her feet floated off the ground, to a wistful parting on the morning after their first and only night together, their bodies achingly arching into each other, to a heart-rending confrontation with death, Casati's Romeo attempting a final duet with a Juliet he believes is dead, dragging Barnard's limp figure across the stage. By the time Juliet took her own life, we had seen -- and more significantly, felt -- the astonishing depth of this sad couple's love in its many colors. In a tribute to Stephen Mills and his collaborators, the words were not missed.

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Romeo and Juliet, Ballet Austin, Stephen Mills, Chris Hannon, Derek Sakakura, Shell Bauman, Vlada Chtcheberiako, Sergei Prokofiev, Austin Symphony Orchestra, Peter Bay, Christy Barnard, Anthony Casati, Tony Tucci, Lynne Short

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