In John Cranko's Romeo and Juliet, the story moves beyond star-crossed lovers and becomes a study of contrasts and conflicting forces. With set and costume design by Susan Benson, Boston Ballet's production of Romeo and Juliet adds layers of nuance to an old story, giving the audience much to ponder after the final bows.

Misa Kuranaga and Pavel Gurevich © Rosalie O'Connor
Misa Kuranaga and Pavel Gurevich
© Rosalie O'Connor

Don't be alarmed – if it's a love story you want, a love story you will get. The title characters brim with playful youth that turns abruptly tender. Juliet (Misa Kuranaga) is literally swept off her feet, lifted head over heels by her Romeo (Nelson Madrigal). In the balcony scene, the couple's tender, parting kiss made the audience sigh en mass. Christopher Dennis' lighting design was especially striking in this scene, and in the final candlelit procession.

As the story unfolds (or more accurately, as the set and choreography unfold), we realize that it's not just the families who are feuding. The first contrast, is a generational one. The difference, for instance, between the lively Juliet and her stoney mother (Tai Jimenez). Or the dances of the young Capulets and Montagues in contrast to Capulets' masked ball. It is just a matter of time before the Juliets of the world lose their spontaneity, falling into line and dancing the social norm. Romeo and his friends are equally out of place at the ball – not only because they are Montagues, but because they are jokesters who come and go as they please. One way or the other, they will lose that liveliness as time goes on.

Lord Montague and Lord Capulet are social equals, and yet Cranko turns them into opposing social (or political) groups by blending Romeo and his friends in with the peasant dances and keeping the Capulets among their own people. The flirty Mercutio (Paulo Arrais) cannot get enough of the gypsy women. The three friends revel in the market place, where they are accepted and known by the peasants, while the Capulets seem foreign and detached from the common people. The only time the Capulets make an appearance is to stir up trouble (Tybalt), or to swoop in cursing (Lady Capulet).

Just as I began to think I was reading too much into a simple love story, I noticed how an absent-mindedly dropped wrap became a bloodstain on Juliet's bed. This version is so full of nuance, it seems nothing is a coincidence.

Prokofiev's score is one of my favorite pieces of music and watching the music come to life is a real treat. While I've only seen a handful of Romeo and Juliets, this one captures the macabre aspects of the music, along with the whimsical moments. There is even a scene with fruit-throwing, which I will now picture whenever I hear the music from Act I.

The choreography is less thrilling than we have come to expect from Boston Ballet. At times it's hard watching a story ballet like this unfold, knowing what the dancers could do if the choreography let them. It does, however, have delicately ornamented flourishes, like an illuminated manuscript, that lend themselves to the work. And the choreography lends itself to Susan Benson's costume and set design. It goes from regal stiff and methodical to playful and jeering in the turn of a scene.

At the end of Shakespeare's play, the two families realize what they've done and mend their ways. John Cranko's ballet, however, ends in the Capulet vault, without a chance for redemption. As my friend observed on our way home, “when's the last time you saw two countries make amends and dedicate gold statues to the fallen?” When, indeed.