Lavish and Touching Romeo & Juliet Completes SF Ballet's 90th Season
By Michael Phelan, April 26, 2023—San Francisco Ballet is wrapping up its 90th, and final season of Helgi Tomasson's planning, with a grand and emotional Romeo & Juliet that befits the marking of this milestone. At last night's performance, Misa Kuranaga and Joseph Walsh were exceptionally moving partnered in the leading roles. The extravagant and imaginative movable sets, together with opulent and colorful costumes, both designed by Jens-Jacob Worsaae, made for a spectacular and entertaining visual feast made more engaging by Prokofiev's majestic score.
Kuranaga is entirely convincing as the love struck teen, emotive in movements and facial expressions. She gushes with joy in her pas de deux with her Romeo, who returns her gaze with longing admiration. In the balcony scene, her joyous pirouettes, with Walsh's effortless, embracing lifts, made Kuranaga appear to be floating in ecstasy. Misa Kuranaga is always a pleasure to watch, and she was at the top of her form. Her scenes were very touching, whether dancing with Romeo, brokenheartedly beseeching her father not to betroth her to Paris, or grieving in the tomb over the body of her lover.
Other performances worth mention include Daniel Deivison-Oliveira, who made a very credible Tybalt. Forceful and aggressive, his incessant bullying and inciting other men to fight convincingly begins the tragic turn of events. As Mercutio, Romeo's close friend killed by Tybalt, Cavan Conley was impressive with forceful turns, yet comedic in his death throes, which onlookers mistake for jest. Billed as Harlots (isn't there a nicer term?), Isabella DeVivo and Elizabeth Mateer were bold in both attitude and steps.
The appearance of Rosaline, danced by Ellen Rose Hummel, is a curious device in a ballet. In Shakespeare's play, Rosaline does not appear as a character; she is only referred to as Romeo's first love.
Thomas R. Skelton's appropriate lighting, especially when illuminating Juliet in the balcony scene, was superb. Professional swordsman Martino Pistone choreographed the convincing sword fighting, which added to the excitement and realism. Pistone also appeared as the commanding Prince of Verona.
The entire production is a sumptuous experience. Its only shortcoming is that it is a bit short on dancing. At an intermission, I overheard someone say that it isn't really a ballet. While I wouldn't go that far, I can see what they meant. Many scenes are acted out in pantomime and expressions, rather than in dance. The final tomb scene has no dancing at all, except for Romeo's grief-stricken effort to embrace the seemingly lifeless Juliet, echoing their joyous pas de deux.
San Francisco Ballet's production is highly successful in bringing the beauty and emotion of the quintessential love story, as well as the glamour, elegance, and ceremony of the period. Romeo & Juliet runs through April 30th at the War Memorial Opera House. For more information, see sfballet.org.