It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen it, there’s something so right about “Romeo and Juliet.” Whether in William Shakespeare’s original verse, Leonard Bernstein’s adapted “West Side Story,” or Sergei Prokofiev’s haunting ballet, performed Friday night in a collaborative production between Neglia Ballet Artists, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and Shea’s Performing Arts Center, it stands the test of time better than almost any other story.
Beautiful tragedies have that way with us. On repeated viewings – or readings or listenings – we push the doomed lovers, poor scapegoats of their feuding families, together, knowing full well their tragic fate. Why do we insist on rooting for their hopeful spirit despite their – spoiler alert, the two of you out there – impending deaths?
It’s the beauty of their mating dance, the fact that they must tiptoe around each other so bravely and carefully, and then, without hesitation, lunge forth at each other, climbing balconies and stealing kind kisses in plain view of those who will murder for such a private moment. We endorse their dangerous path because we wish we could be so romantic. It almost kills us to want that.
Sergio Neglia’s remarkable talent, as founder and artistic director of his namesake company, and as Friday night’s Romeo, is full of Romeo’s boldness.
The BPO’s involvement helps reinforce the seriousness of his mission to make Buffalo a legitimate ballet venue. Together, these forces cannot be stopped. Who would dare get in their way?
Neglia’s work here, with both this production and his company’s impressive credits, further proves the need for such a traditional craft, a real, honest to goodness classical experience. And what an experience it was.
As director, his production is a luscious, somber, dark version of our favorite romance. Verona has never looked so seductive.
Lighting designer Dyan Burlingame and costume designers Donna Massimo and Lynne Hinman have crafted a visual style that relies on shadows and color to lure our lovers’ into the light. There are beautiful moments where we can’t necessarily see so clearly; where low, musty reds and cascading, haunting blues paint lines on our dancers. We see what we need to, or maybe all that the secretive lovers want us to see. Many scenes end with striking display, a lush painting of a masterfully lit, impeccably designed moment.
Our Juliet is simply a sight to behold. Silvina Vaccarelli, an esteemed dancer from Argentina (like Neglia), enthralls in everything she does. Hers is an exquisite beauty; she is a graceful poet who flies when she’s filled with joy and curdles when she’s in pain. Severity goes a long way in a ballet like this, and Vaccarelli knows how to measure Juliet’s extremes with poise and control. It is breathtaking to watch.
Neglia, as a much older Romeo than we typically see, is much more theatrical in his presentation, much more grandiose, as if playing to the lobby. It’s not a distraction, though, just a more emphatic interpretation than that of his partner.
Equally theatrical are Jace Coronado’s Mercutio and Suzanne Evans’s Nanny, both of whom are delicious comic reliefs among a couple dozen or so heavy hearts. Coronado’s mocking bravura is especially humorous, but thankfully only supplements his dancing. Evans, as Juliet’s earthy and jubilant den mother, helps the young lover’s own youthfulness come to the surface, whereas Vaccarelli’s maturity might have otherwise aged her.
The BPO, last but most certainly not at all least, is the linchpin around which all moving parts hinge. There’s just nothing like our city’s own orchestra, playing this aesthetically challenging music – especially the second act’s more harrowing death scenes – in this illustrious auditorium. What a treat.
The BPO’s inclusion in Neglia’s daring vision, and welcomed through Sheas’ doors, demands more of these collaborative outings. It’s just too rich a payoff. Fight for what you love, as we’re reminded once again, and again, and your finale will be spectacular.