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Dance of Death
The Milwaukee Ballet's "Romeo & Juliet."

Davit Hovhannisyan and Luz San Miguel. (photos by Mark Frohna)

The doomed lovers of
Romeo and Juliet seem to be everywhere these days. On Broadway with Orlando Bloom, who makes an entrance on a motorcycle. In a new British movie, which channels the 1968 Franco Zefferelli chestnut by combining young-folk lovers with dramatic locations. And for parents whose kids haven’t tackled the play in high school English class, let’s not forget the animated Gnomeo and Juliet, which sets the story among neighboring suburban yards filled with feuding garden gnomes.

And the story is told in a revival of the Milwaukee Ballet’s 2007 production, which opened Thursday night, featuring Serge Prokofiev’s glorious three-act score, brilliantly played by conductor Andrews Sill and the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra. As with many of his full-length ballets, Michael Pink’s popular production thrives on drama and theatricality, but not without showcasing his superb roster of dancers.

He’s at his best in the large crowd scenes, which capture the playful energy of Verona street life, even as the staging hints at the dark conflicts between the Montagues and the Capulets. Costume designer Judanna Lynn doesn’t distinguish the families with a divided color palette, and Pink emphasizes the chaos of the street rather than the divisions of the feud. Detailed vignettes play out in foreground and background while we watch “the boys” hang out and goof around. But Pink creates lovely moments when the vitality of the crowd coalesces into an unison ensemble, perfectly in synch to a passage of Prokofiev’s music.

Among the crowd, Romeo (Davit Hovhannisyan), Mercutio (Alexandre Ferreira) and Benvolio (Marc Petrocci)—move with both a balletic physical comedy shtick with more dancerly passages. They are truly the “stars” of the show (particularly Ferreira, who conveys his Mercutio’s winning personality with a combination of physically dazzling movement and a charming presence).

For the doomed lovers (Juliet is danced by Luz San Miguel), Pink combines dance and theater. The duets are a blend of emotionally charged mime, traditional ballet, and full-body-contact partnering. Hovhannisyan’s strength and San Miguel’s petite size allow for some sensual and sensational acrobatics. At one point, Juliet is all but thrown over Romeo’s shoulders like a shawl.

Pink’s “high drama” approach leads to some startlingly beautiful theatrical moments—the falling leaves at the family tomb were an evocative touch. But some of his choices may not be to all tastes. I’m not sure we needed thunder and lightning to augment Prokofiev’s tensely stacked chords at the opening of the ballet. And having the men wield ominously foreshadowing daggers in the famous “Dance of the Knights” seemed like one murderous stroke too many.

But Pink’s sure-handed storytelling instincts—and his knack for drawing stirring performances from his company—are all in evidence here. For all the R&J’s out there today, there are few that pack such visual and sonic beauty, and pure emotional punch, into a neat three-hour package.

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