At long last love?

By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  February 20, 2008

Susan Benson’s set design is built on a massive stone arcade that rises in the middle to form a bridge, giving the ballet two playing levels. It’s the backdrop for the market scenes and also serves as Juliet’s balcony (with a stone outcropping for Romeo to climb up rather than stairs for her to scamper down). Affix a huge lion’s head with sunburst mane to the bridge and you have the Capulet ballroom; let down two streaming white curtains from the ceiling to frame Juliet’s bed like angel wings and you have her boudoir. (Both these indoor scenes are open to the sky — of course, in Shakespeare’s theaters, everything was open to the sky.) For the final scene in the Capulet crypt, Juliet’s body is carried to the top of the arcade bridge and let down through an opening to her resting place below, which is in the exact same spot her bed was. The arcade does confine the dancers, especially in the balcony pas de deux; you might well miss Alain Vaës’s set for the Goh and Pelzig productions, with its half-hidden equestrian statue in the piazza. The pre-ball scene where Lady Capulet gives Juliet her party dress and the two scenes in church with Friar Lawrence are played in front of monochromatic scrims that pale behind Benson’s opulent costumes: mostly beige and blue for the Montagues, red and black for the Capulets, white for Romeo and Paris, pink dominos outside the Capulet palazzo, tones of red and orange and gold and cream and black inside, a riot of orange and brown and green in the marketplace. Christopher Dennis’s atmospheric lighting is misty for Verona at dawn, torch-lit for the Capulet ball.

Cranko’s characterization is less polemical than MacMillan’s. Far from spurning Romeo, Rosaline is open to his suit. In their goofy camaraderie, Romeo, Benvolio, and Mercutio could be ragazzi out of Fellini’s I vitelloni. Juliet, sans teddy bear, is ready for her first dress, her first dance, her first beau, and she’s not averse to Paris, she just prefers Romeo. Her Nurse, hardly older than she, doesn’t dodder about; her father is firm but not tyrannical. Paris and Tybalt are men of substance as well as shortcomings; Tybalt doesn’t seem to want Juliet for himself (as in some versions), and there’s just the suggestion that he’s getting it on with his aunt. Cranko’s heart is in the act two marketplace, with its whirling Gypsies and acrobatic Carnival troupe and festive tarantella, the lines of dancers breaking apart and wheeling like spiral galaxies, as if they’d caught the rhythm of the universe. It’s puzzling then, that Lord Capulet and Paris aren’t there to grieve at Juliet’s deathbed, and that there’s no reconciliation at the end.

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