REVIEW: 'Romeo & Juliet' ballet aswirl in romance and elegance

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Orchestra Iowa, Ballet Quad Cities create pas de deux for the ages

CEDAR RAPIDS – Cupid made a perfect match in pairing Orchestra Iowa with Ballet Quad Cities, and together, they created a most exquisite Valentine for Eastern Iowa.

The tragic love story of Juliet and her Romeo played out with youthful joy and passion, rather than pathos, in its premiere Saturday night (2/14/15) at the Paramount Theatre. Choreographer Courtney Lyon has taken this Shakespearean tale as old as time, stripped it down to its essence and created a timeless pas de deux to Sergei Prokofiev’s magical musical score.

This setting assumes the audience knows the story of the star-crossed lovers from Verona’s warring houses of Capulet and Montague who meet, fall in love, then die in a tragic escape plan gone terribly awry.

All of this plays out in metaphor in Lyon’s staging where love triumphs over death, leaving the audience with glorious images of poetry in motion, where love conquers all. We see no swords, no balcony, no vials, no dagger, yet we understand all of this as the action unfolds under the watch of Fate, danced with power and mastery by Jacob Lyon. He orchestrates it all as he brings the lovers together in life and death, launching them into a breathtaking afterlife.

Often staged by acting troupes in 16th century trappings, this ballet assumes a modern edge to underscore the visceral attraction of a love that knows no age, no limits and no boundaries. Aside from Fate, Romeo and Juliet, all the other roles play out through a troupe of angels who assume multiple roles in contemporary, spare garments that display the musculature the demanding modern posturing demands. All are marvelous in their artistry and control.

Orchestra Iowa, under the baton of Maestro Timothy Hankewich, is sublime in handling the dynamic nuances and difficult meters of the many moods of Prokofiev’s masterpiece.

The music begins so quietly and ominously in the prologue’s tomblike setting. Violins swell and ebb as the chorus of angels lying on their backs begin to rise, arching their torsos and legs, then turning elegantly to one side and back as the horns join in. Fate enters, controlling the angels with a wave of his hand until the stage plunges into darkness as the orchestra thunders through Prokofiev’s evocative music.

The strings begin to lightly pluck as Romeo (Patrick Green), clad in navy blue, lightly leaps and spins across the stage before the angels in icy blue trunks and T-tops push and freeze him as Fate reaches out his hand. The movement becomes more angular as the music grows more frenetic and partners pair off, pushing against each other with one arm outstretched in duels.

The action builds with flat-footed stomps, somersaults and power poses before Fate introduces Juliet (Jill Schwartz) in a demure swirl of flowing peach skirts and classical ballet moves in a brilliant contrast to the barefoot modern dance around her as she stretches to greet the day.

Among the most beautiful scenes is the ball, where the angels enter in masks and the action unfolds in most unusual movements, pushing their way across the stage on their backs or wrapping around each other in futuristic embraces until Romeo and Juliet are left to dance their desires under the full moon’s glow.

She pirouettes delicately as he preens and postures for her, until their styles fuse in elegant arabesques and lifts, performed with flawless precision.

The music crashes in dissonance at the top of the second act, where the angels trade their body-hugging attire for free-flowing, full-length white gowns. Arms outstretched, they move like swans across the stage as snare drum ushers in Romeo for another epic battle full of confrontational poses and wide-open crouches.

Fate enters as half the opponents fall to their backs on the floor. They rise to their feet under the pulsing percussion and fling themselves in wide diagonal stances. Romeo’s opponent lies lifeless at his feet before the angels roll the dead body upstage and Romeo enfolds Juliet in his embrace.

The sheer drama moved many in the audience of 1,200 to applaud the magnificence of these moments.

Moving to the crypt to seal the lovers’ fate is as beautiful as it is tragic, as Juliet dances so eloquently between Romeo and Fate, who are mirroring each other’s movements. Fate sweeps her off her feet into Romeo’s arms in a lovely, intimate pas de deux marked by beautiful extensions and lifts before Fate backs into her and she falls onto his clasped fists.

The angels appear and Juliet dances in desperation until all again are on the floor, their torsos undulating in an eerie rhythm. Romeo enters and Juliet reaches up, pulling him toward his doom as the music swells in a death knell. But from that fateful moment, their love rises to a final lush, romantic pas de deux as they live on in an eternal embrace.

The perfect ending to a day dedicated to love.

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