There are no plot surprises in Romeo and Juliet: we know from the beginning how it will end. Why, then, is this story of a political feud, teenage love and the despairing mix of drugs and misunderstood missives such a powerful one? The traditional answer, that the love of the two central characters is such a beautiful thing to witness, rings true in some productions. But in John Cranko’s version, which Boston Ballet first danced in 2008, and again in 2011, the lover’s tale is embedded fully into a theatrical whole: for better and worse. Here the central lovers are not so elevated by their affection that they transcend the world in which they live. Rather, they are consumed by it. Their tragedy is not the only one that matters; nor are their feelings for each other necessarily, or always, the most moving for the audience.

Boston Ballet in Cranko's <i>Romeo and Juliet</i> © Rosalie O'Connor
Boston Ballet in Cranko's Romeo and Juliet
© Rosalie O'Connor

The world Cranko creates feels true, despite the slight datedness of the Jürgen Rose costumes and the occasional creakiness of the choreography; on first glance, one could be forgiven for assuming that the Capulet’s antipathy towards the Montagues stems mainly from their irritation with the bizarre dress sense (featuring peppermint stipes down just one leg) of the young Montague men (Lasha Khozashvili as a quintessential Romeo, Patrick Yocum, a Ron Weasley-esque Mercutio, and the always entertaining Lawrence Rines as Benvolio) and their proclivity for expressing their friendship by crashing into one another, repeatedly, in the market. These market scenes feel the most antiquated, but the BB dancers rise to the challenge of making them come alive admirably.

Romeo and Juliet offers little classical dancing for the corps, but the ballroom scene showcased appropriate gravitas, with BB II’s lovely Catherine Livingston embracing her role with as much care as if she was dancing a lead. Ekatrine Chubinidze was a commanding Lady Capulet, though her relationship to Roddy Doble’s Tybalt failed to be effectively established early on. Principal Seo Hye Han made a winsome Juliet, charming and delicate, and Khozashvili is every inch a Romeo anyone would die for. Both pas de deux felt a bit anticlimactic, but more opportunities to work together will bring this couple to a more passionate fruition onstage. In the balcony scene, for example, when Romeo ran forward to execute an attitude renversé, then returned to Juliet: it did felt a bit like he was seeking technical feedback from a coach to improve his performance, rather than expressing his emotion for his beloved. This, no doubt, will improve as the pair continue to develop together.

Misa Kuranaga and Nelson Madrigal in Cranko's <i>Romeo and Juliet</i> © Rosalie O'Connor
Misa Kuranaga and Nelson Madrigal in Cranko's Romeo and Juliet
© Rosalie O'Connor

Technique was, however, nothing but background in the infamous third scene of Act II. With lesser artists than those of BB, this scene can be denigrate into an overly histrionic bloodbath. But this afternoon, the sense of inevitable doom built by Prokofiev’s mounting score appeared to pulse through the veins of charming Yocum, who taunted Robby Doble’s despising Tybalt to what was at first nearly a lighthearted duel (Yocum sneaking kisses from gypsies Maria Baranova, Ji Young Chae and Dalay Parrondo in between jabs) but ultimately resulted in his choking end, arms slung around the shoulders of his two best friends.

In this moment, Cranko shows his genius: humanity is not simple. There are other loves, in their own way, as primal and profound as a romantic love. Unable to tolerate a true friend’s murder in the way he tolerated insults to himself, Khozashvili’s Romeo blazed. Reason was gone. The fight between himself and Tybalt was personal, and both their eyes and gestures declared it was to death. Doble’s Tybalt opted for an unusually gymnastic end, but his demise was entirely overshadowed by Khozashvili’s reaction to committing murder. His body bore out that horror that is particular to humans: life can change in an instant. One split second action –done by accident or primal instinct – can wreck irrevocable damage to multiple lives in the blink of an eye. Khozashvili’s Romeo knows that in this instant, he has ruined his entire life, destroyed his chances at happiness, not only for himself but for his beloved- destroyed every attempt at the peace he hoped to build. The shock and horror of that realization nearly dripped from his features….and potentially dripped like a balm into the hearts of audience members who have known the horror of making a life-changing mistake. This human capacity to destroy oneself is the flip side of one’s capacity to love, and Cranko’s genius shows both elements in this ballet. The naked power of this scene was the highlight of the entire afternoon,  an illustration of why these stories –  and these ballets – will always endure: they show the truth of the human condition in both beauty, and unbearable pain.

***11