Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dance preview: Miami City Ballet's 'Romeo' set for Kravis

Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra.
(Photo by Lois Greenfield)

By Gretel Sarmiento

Following impressive performances at the Arsht Center,‭ ‬the Miami City Ballet’s production of‭ ‬Romeo and Juliet,‭ ‬which opens tomorrow at the Kravis Center,‭ ‬is quickly establishing itself as the company’s newest,‭ ‬and biggest,‭ ‬hit.‭

The company is mounting legendary South African choreographer John Cranko’s setting of the story,‭ ‬to the‭ ‬1940‭ ‬score by Sergei Prokofiev.‭

Part of the buzz generated comes as a result of the real-life love birds dancing the lead roles on opening night.‭ ‬Soloists Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra have been married for five years‭ (‬officially on May‭ ‬1‭) ‬but have only been Romeo and Juliet for a weekend.‭ ‬But so far,‭ ‬they have given electrifying performances.

During a recent phone interview,‭ ‬Kronenberg struggled to find the words to describe the experience of doing this ballet with her husband.‭ ‬When she finally talks,‭ ‬she calls it‭ “‬fulfilling,‭” ‬and adds‭ “‬probably the most special weekend I have ever experienced.‭”

That is to say a lot.‭ ‬She has danced plenty of beautiful roles,‭ ‬both contemporary and classical,‭ ‬but this role was magical for her,‭ ‬given the fact that the same rush Juliet experiences she too felt not so long ago.‭

Although the attention seems to revolve around the graceful pair,‭ ‬they are not the only ones committed to the lead characters in this production,‭ ‬which celebrates the company’s‭ ‬25-year anniversary.‭ ‬Haiyan Wu,‭ ‬who played Juliet during the Saturday matinee at the Adrienne Arsht,‭ ‬embodied the innocence,‭ ‬youth and impulsiveness of this Shakespearean character just as well.‭ ‬In the arms of her Romeo‭ (‬danced by Yann Trividic‭) ‬she moved like a feather and carried out rehearsed gestures and reactions with a spontaneity that made them seem as if the thoughts had just entered her head.‭

The expression after receiving her first dress from her mother,‭ ‬Lady Capulet,‭ (‬Act I‭) ‬is of a jovial sheltered girl whose surroundings could not be more beautiful and safe.‭ ‬As the story evolves,‭ ‬the young girl finds herself making important grown-up decisions,‭ ‬such as marrying Romeo in secret.

By the third scene of Act‭ ‬III,‭ ‬Juliet contemplates whether to take the sleeping potion that would temporarily make her appear dead.‭ ‬She grabs the bottle,‭ ‬then drops it and moves away from it.‭ ‬She hesitates at the horror of what she is about to do and the suffering it would bring to her parents.

Carlos Guerra and Jennifer Kronenberg in Romeo and Juliet.
(Photo by Kyle Froman)

Then she remembers this is a small necessary sacrifice in order to be with Romeo forever.‭ ‬She drinks it and crawls back to bed.‭

The transformation Juliet undergoes from fragile to defiant,‭ ‬naïve to mature,‭ ‬made the role irresistible for Kronenberg.‭ “‬She is so complex,‭” ‬she said.

Acting is a very big part of this production,‭ ‬from the carnival clowns,‭ ‬whose synchronized steps make the audience laugh,‭ ‬to the authoritative figures of Verona,‭ ‬whose entrance to the stage is announced with Prokofiev’s commanding music.‭ ‬Funny marketplace exchanges,‭ ‬gossip,‭ ‬and sword duels provide an entertaining pause from the dreamy romantic spell achieved beautifully in several scenes including the balcony‭ ‬pas de deux.‭

Romeo,‭ ‬calling out to Juliet,‭ ‬appears strong and vulnerable at the same time.‭ ‬Juliet,‭ ‬still cautious,‭ ‬decides to follow her instincts.‭ ‬This is Kronenberg’s favorite scene.

Those attending should not expect the strong makeup,‭ ‬dark costumes or aggressive moves of a‭ ‬Swan Lake.‭ ‬That is Tchaikovsky’s tale of betrayal and deception.‭ ‬This is about a young impulsive love that refuses to be rationalized and keeps its promises.‭ ‬It is also about passion and loss.‭

There is no black-swan metamorphosis,‭ ‬nothing close to‭ ‬Giselle’s insanity and no explosive‭ ‬fouettés or any of the steps that traditionally let a dancer show off and get an audience on their feet.‭ ‬And that is the amazing thing:‭ ‬that considering the ballet has no single distinctive highlight,‭ ‬it still makes spectators stand up and remember it vividly long after the curtain falls.

At the absence of flamboyant displays and costumes the performance’s real strengths emerge.‭ ‬We then appreciate the light fabrics that seem to float around the stage,‭ ‬the music marrying the soft duets,‭ ‬the tender sequences and lifts,‭ ‬the backdrops.‭ ‬That it appears sweet and delicate does not mean this is an easy ballet to interpret.‭ ‬It takes a very skilled athlete or dancer,‭ ‬to make something look soft,‭ ‬effortless and relaxed.‭

Kronenberg says the role is physically challenging and requires great stamina,‭ ‬but above all,‭ ‬is very emotionally taxing.‭

All the sacrifice and risks seem to have paid off for the company.‭ ‬A poorly conceived set or miscalculation could have turned this production into a real tragedy.‭ ‬Fortunately,‭ ‬Edward Villella,‭ ‬the founding artistic director driving this group of‭ ‬50‭ ‬dancers,‭ ‬took careful steps.‭ ‬For Villella,‭ ‬it has never been about being reckless,‭ ‬which can turn into disaster,‭ ‬but being cautious,‭ ‬which could lead to extraordinary.

‭“‬My strategy was to proceed carefully and steadily,‭ ‬evolving rather than over-extending,‭” ‬he writes in the program booklet.‭ “‬Of course there’s never been enough money.‭ ‬Of course there have been countless crises,‭ ‬setbacks,‭ ‬heartaches.‭ ‬But slowly and surely we grew and prevailed.‭”

The production may not feature the sharpest leg extensions or wildest leaps,‭ ‬but still manages to convey great emotion.‭ ‬It makes us notice every single character and care about them.‭

If the flirtatious gypsies don’t get a kiss from the boys,‭ ‬no big deal.‭ ‬But when we see Juliet’s nurse anxiously looking for Romeo to hand him Juliet’s letter,‭ ‬we want to tell her Romeo is right there,‭ ‬in the left corner of the stage,‭ ‬lost in his thoughts of the young beautiful girl he has just met.‭ ‬We can see him.‭ ‬Can’t she‭? ‬Instead,‭ ‬his partners in crime,‭ ‬friends Benvolio and Mercutio,‭ ‬point the way.‭

Carlos Guerra and Jennifer Kronenberg in Romeo and Juliet.
(Photo by Kyle Froman)

One of the sweetest scenes is the morning after their secret nuptials,‭ ‬when the lovers wake up locked in an embrace.‭ ‬This is how the second act opens and it draws an automatic unanimous response from the audience.‭ ‬The next time they lie together it will not be such a happy event.‭ ‬But in that moment,‭ ‬their love,‭ ‬lit by the sunrise,‭ ‬seems very real and pure.‭ ‬A conflicted Romeo,‭ ‬who has been ordered to leave‭ ‬Verona,‭ ‬is then seen struggling with the decision to leave Juliet behind.‭

Everything seems so well-structured that is hard to think of an instant that falls short.‭ ‬I ask Kronenberg instead,‭ ‬for any detail or event that deserves attention and could go unnoticed by the audience.‭ ‬She cannot think of anything but reminds me to always keep an eye on the corners of the stage or the background,‭ ‬where subtle things‭ (‬a wink or a glance‭) ‬usually happen while a major scene develops in the center.‭

I am confident I did not miss anything until Kronenberg mentions the Capulet House’s ball in the first act.‭ ‬Something else is going on with Romeo and Juliet,‭ ‬according to her.

‭“‬They are having a moment,‭” ‬she says.

The Miami City Ballet production of Romeo and Juliet is set for‭ ‬8‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Friday,‭ ‬2‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬and‭ ‬8‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Saturday,‭ ‬and‭ ‬7‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Sunday.‭ ‬The show then heads to the‭ ‬Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale for performances from April‭ ‬29-May‭ ‬1.‭ ‬For Kravis tickets,‭ ‬call‭ ‬832-7469‭ ‬or visit

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