More foolhardy than fated
Boston Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet just needed a good talking-to
Romeo and Juliet
Performed by the Boston Ballet
Boston Opera House
March 15 – April 8
Boston Ballet’s staging of John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet turned out to be a surprising experience for me — primarily because it was a lighter, more juvenile version of Romeo and Juliet than I’d come to expect.
From the get-go, Boston Ballet's interpretation makes you very aware that Romeo and Juliet are, in fact, children. The opening courtyard fight between the Montagues and Capulets is treated with jovial, almost humorous overtones. The dancers sword fight with mischievous grins on their faces and chase each other around the stage with quick, flitting allegros. Even as they occasionally kill one another, the plastic apples and bananas being lobbed across the stage by the corps completely undermine any gravity to the scene.
Keeping with the lighthearted mood, Paulo Arrais and Misa Kuranaga portray Romeo and Juliet with overwhelming innocence. Arrais’s Romeo appears the least down-to-earth of his friends, who have to keep him from foolishly outing them at the Capulets’ masquerade or constantly snap him back into reality. Kuranaga’s Juliet, meanwhile, plays childish games with her nurse and jetés gleefully across the stage with her new dress like a bunny in spring.
It is fitting then that when Romeo and Juliet finally meet, their love is an almost cloyingly saccharine one; shy, tentative and full of awkward flirtation. My priors, when it comes to Romeo and Juliet, are Peter Martin’s and Kenneth Macmillan’s choreographies — two extremely sweeping, heavy, and ultimately devastating love stories. As such, it is a very strange thing for me to watch Arrais and Kuranaga come together, then back away again in uncertainty; or execute a grand lift but then freeze in position, as if not knowing what to do with such intense intimacy. When the married couple wakes up together in Act 3, with Arrais playing with Kuranaga’s hair, one is quite convinced that they had nothing more than a sleepover.
Unfortunately, the result of this gaiety is that I completely checked out in the final death scenes. I’m typically heartbroken when it comes to this point, but I could not help but roll my eyes and jeer internally at these star-crossed lovers who were, ultimately, being very stupid. Given the buoyant buildup thus far, the reason they are killing themselves is not that their love was so strong and they saw no other way out against the pressures of their warring families, but it is because they clung childishly to the notion that their love was real. To be fair, that element of naiveté is certainly a key feature of the original story, but it is tragic only when the audience shares their sense of hopelessness; here, it seems like everything could have easily been avoided if the pair had just been given a good talking-to.
I will say that, in contrast, the death scene that did strike me surprisingly deeply was Mercutio’s, performed by Derek Dunn. He is likewise as glib as Romeo from the beginning, but while Arrais portrays this through a look of far-off wonder, Dunn does so with a cheeky air of laissez-faire. This ages him instantly, signaling to the audience that Mercutio is acutely aware of the darkness and violence of the world around him but is upbeat about it to an almost heroic degree. As such, his eventual defeat rings out like a loss of hope, finally providing the searing emotional fallout that I came to this ballet in search of.