Monday, April 24, 2023

San Francisco Ballet - "Romeo & Juliet"

San Francisco Ballet
Romeo & Juliet
War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
April 21st, 2023

Whether the ballet, the stage play or the original text, when you spend time in the world of Romeo & Juliet, a complex narrative unfolds. It’s a tragic love story. It’s a cautionary tale about hate. It unpacks how human beings value each other. It shows the consequences of rash actions. It’s about trajectory; about timing. On Friday night, as San Francisco Ballet opened the final program of 2023, all these themes percolated throughout the War Memorial Opera House. This is another ballet that SFB audiences are very familiar with – choreographed by former Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson and premiering almost thirty years ago. As was the case with earlier full-length works this season, fresh interpretations gave the established work new energy. And opening night’s cast went a step further – they turned this known production into something astonishing, something sublime. Together, Jasmine Jimison, debuting as Juliet, and Angelo Greco, returning as Romeo, made this one of the best R&Js I’ve seen. Ever.

Angelo Greco and Jasmine Jimison in
Tomasson's Romeo & Juliet
Photo Lindsay Thomas

Important narrative frames are established early in Act I. First is the hatred between the Capulets and the Montagues. Seething, violent and deep-seated, the charged environment brews in the very first village scene. It’s electric, angry and one wonders how anything beautiful can grow in such a hostile environment. Also, Act I shows a change of romantic trajectory. Originally, Romeo thought Rosaline to be his future and Juliet thought the same of Paris. How things would dramatically shift over the course of a masked ball. Romeo and Juliet meet and each of their paths are altered forever. 

Much exposition happens in Act II – it’s short and full of many compact scenes, but a lot of action brings us to R&J’s final chapter. There’s more village antics, which feel a little superfluous to be honest. Romeo and Juliet are married, privately and secretly by Friar Laurence (Jim Sohm). And then we return to the town square, where two people are slain, including Tybalt (Luke Ingham) at Romeo’s hand. Romeo is banished and the curtain falls. As the ballet reaches its conclusion, Juliet hatches a scheme to fake her own death and sends a message to Romeo revealing that it is all a charade. She will wake and then they can run away together. Missed connections mean that Romeo does not learn of her plan, and in the end, they both perish.

The above synopsis details the events of the story, but more is needed to communicate the magic that happened onstage. To impart the mood, the atmosphere, the emotion and the triumphs of opening night. Though the production’s visuals and design need some updating, there was much brilliance to behold.

Greco’s Romeo, Max Cauthorn’s Benvolio and Esteban Hern├índez’ Mercutio were not only technically impressive but how they related to each other made you believe that they were like brothers. That connection must be there in order to explain the tragic events that happen later. Jimison was superb as Juliet, capturing every aspect of the nuanced character - from joy and innocence to fright and defeat; from youthful excitement to mature determination. 

Timing and trajectory intersect in Act I’s balcony pas de deux, if only for a moment. This sweeping duet of arabesque slides and circular spins was explosively passionate and both Greco and Jimison’s characters seemed overcome with budding love. While the entire cast was one of the best I have seen, this particular balcony scene was indeed the best. Act III opens back at Juliet’s bed chamber, and again, we see the love between the pair, though this time, intense grief is also part of the picture. They desperately want to be together, and yet, circumstance, trajectory and timing are against them. This truth remains constant until the final moments of the ballet, where the War Memorial stage undeniably saw some of its best acting in years. Bravi!

Angelo Greco and Jasmine Jimison in
Tomasson's Romeo & Juliet
Photo Lindsay Thomas

Romeo & Juliet runs until Sunday, April 30th, with Greco and Jimison back in the titular roles on Thursday and Saturday evenings. 

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