Frederick Ashton’s Romeo and Juliet
Los Angeles Ballet, reviewed at Alex Theatre
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
Allyssa Bross as Juliet and Kenta Shimizu as Romeo
A sculptor shapes material into a tangible object. A good sculptor can add a story to the object. A great sculptor can add emotion and purpose. So it is with a choreographer who puts ballet steps together, occasionally adding nonballetic movement, to give the steps interest and make the dancing fit its music. A good choreographer tells a story without spoken words. A genius makes movement reveal emotion and subtext.
What do we have in the case of Frederick Ashton and his version of Romeo and Juliet? Los Angeles Ballet closes out its 10th anniversary season this month by being the first American company to perform the British choreographer’s ballet, which was originally set on the Royal Danish Ballet in 1955. That’s enough of a coup to merit the attention of local balletomanes.
So is most of the dancing here. Staged by Peter Schaufuss, it’s certainly technically clean and pliable. But Ashton’s telling of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers is not as narratively strong as other choreographers’ versions of the story—for example, the more familiar one by Kenneth MacMillan.
The major characters are here. But Ashton doesn’t establish each by movement alone, nor does he give the characters a chance to grow. Juliet fares best, going from impetuous child to love-struck teen to despondent bride. Romeo, however, remains a cipher.
That can’t be the fault of Kenta Shimizu, who dances the role of Romeo. Shimizu has proven himself a fine actor in the season’s previous ballets. Allyssa Bross, who dances Juliet here, gives her finest interpretation of the season, as her Juliet grows dramatically from impetuous child to desperate wife.
The two teens take a quick first look at each other at the Capulets’s ball, and then Romeo whisks Juliet offstage, twice, where, presumably, the more-interesting interactions between them are taking place. There’s no balcony in the iconic balcony scene. They hook up on the terrace, no hesitation, no persuasion. There is no foreshadowing. There is, however, necking, which might be a modern intercalation into the choreography.
Magnus Christoffersen as Benvolio, Kenta Shimizu as Romeo, and Luke Shaufuss as Mercutio, with Los Angeles Ballet Ensemble
As in other versions, a floppy-haired Mercutio gambols (Luke Schaufuss), a sleek Tybalt preens (Zheng Hua Li), Lady Capulet rages, Lord Capulet terrorizes. But Benvolio, the Nurse, and Friar Laurence must pretty much depend on their costumes to reveal who they are. As so often the case in this ballet, no matter the version, Paris is extremely tall and extremely handsome, and no more so than danced here by Erik Thordal-Christensen. And though Paris is a cool cookie, it makes one wonder why Juliet never gives him a second glance.
But the dancing is quite good throughout. The choreography was created for the Danes, who have been schooled in the Bournonville style, which consists mostly of petit allegro: light, quick, bounding steps that here change direction midway, as do turns. Some of it looks fiendishly difficult, and the dancers give it a deceptive effortlessness. But the men’s committed swordplay ups the adrenaline.
The corps, particularly the sextet of Juliet’s friends, is remarkably disciplined. One can see why this is so, watching the company’s artistic directors, Colleen Neary and Thordal Christensen, in the fervid roles of the Capulets. If Neary’s Lady Capulet so vehemently berates Romeo for slaying Tybalt, imagine what Neary does when one of her ballerinas slips out of epaulement.
front, Colleen Neary and Thordal Christensen as the Capulets; at rear,
Allyssa Bross as Juliet and Erik Thordal-Christensen as Paris
It’s noteworthy that over the years so many versions of the choreography, from so many nations and in so many styles, have relied on a single score, by Sergei Prokofiev. Ballet scores don’t get more programmatic nor more impassioned. It’s prerecorded here, but the Christensens chose, or pieced together, a lovely recording of it.
The Christensens and Schaufuss also stage the ballet with two 20-minute intermissions.
May 9, 2016
Photos by Reed Hutchinson
Republished courtesy of Los Angeles Daily News
May 28: Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach. 8pm.
June 4: Royce Hall, UCLA campus. 2pm & 7:30pm.
$24.50 to $99.
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