The Kansas City Ballet used wordless artistry to tell Shakespeare’s tragic love story.
The company continues its inaugural season in the Kauffman Center with the star-crossed lovers of “Romeo & Juliet,” choreographed by Ib Andersen and set to music by Sergei Prokofiev.
The timelessness of the score, written in 1935, and the ubiquity of the story, written around 1595, make this ballet a perpetual favorite among dance fans and general audiences alike.
Andersen, artistic director of Ballet Arizona, choreographed this version of the popular ballet for his company in 2005. The Kansas City Ballet, a similarly sized company, first performed the production in 2008. Students from the Kansas City Ballet School bolstered the 25-member company.
The magnificent trompe l’oiel backdrops and period design by Alain Vaës evoked a highly romanticized version of old world Verona inside the Muriel Kauffman Theatre. Vaës, along with Henry Haymann, also designed the costumes, which ranged from the courtiers’ velvety, glittering opulence to the peasants’ simple garb. Scenery and costumes for this production were rented from the Boston Ballet. Lighting design was by Michael Korsch.
Luke Luzicka reprised his role as Romeo, partnering with Angelina Sansone as Juliet. Anthony Krutzkamp and Kimberly Cowen dance the title roles on alternate performances. Cowen, who danced Juliet in 2008, announced this week that she is retiring at the end of the season.
Despite the familiarity of the story, acting ability was as vital as technical prowess. Romeo’s development from impetuous show-off to grieving lover was matched by Juliet’s transition from coquettish ingénue to passionate wife.
This was displayed through their various duets, from their shy initial glances, the flirtatious meeting at the balcony, to the more tender and assured bedroom scene, and the final, tragic dance in the crypt, as Romeo lifted Juliet’s lifeless body in poses reminiscent of earlier scenes.
Sansone also had the dual responsibility of dying twice, and she did it well. She was clearly fearful when taking the potion. But her ability really showed in her reactions to waking up in the crypt, discovering Romeo’s body, her steely determination for the end and the gentle final embrace.
Many of the dancers showcased their dramatic ability. Aisling Hill-Conner was an icy, regal Lady Capulet, which made her spasms of grief that much more arresting. Michael Eaton was affecting as the ill-tempered Tybalt.
Logan Pachciarz looked like he was having a lot of fun playing the good-natured Mercutio, even as he stumbled and skipped through his death throes. And Tamara Sanders as the Nurse elicited chuckles as she fussed over Juliet, interrupted the young lovers and was jokingly jostled by Romeo and his friends.
The ensemble numbers were well staged, especially the stately masquerade dance, which – with high-flung arms, arched spines and intricate gestures – was visually sublime. The pomp was contrasted excellently by the innocence of Juliet’s dance with her cousins and the sweet, unaffected duet with Paris, danced by Marcus Oatis.
Many of the crowd scenes were busy, with a sense of constant motion. While this was at times difficult to follow, it offered short, yet delightful, breakout moments for the dancers, especially during the whirly-gig melody of the mandolin dance.
The fight scenes were exciting and tense. The audience gasped empathetically when first Mercutio, then Tybalt, were stabbed.
Prokofiev’s lush, programmatic score is popular fodder as an orchestral suite, and there were surely some in the audience who came just for the music. Ramona Pansegrau conducted the orchestra, which was mostly composed of members of the Kansas City Symphony. It wasn’t until the third act, though, that the ensemble finally rose to the quality of the score.