Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre ends season on emotional high

- By Jane Vranish

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Ending its season on an emotional high, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre unveiled the North American premiere of Derek Deane’s “Romeo and Juliet,” a production that wore its considerab­le heart on its Renaissanc­e sleeve.

Created in 1998 for the English National Ballet’s arena production, it was, by all accounts, armed with a bold vision and an enhanced corps to project to an audience of 5,000 in-the-round, the last time in 2014 at Royal Albert Hall.

Mr. Deane redesigned the production for the proscenium arch and a convention­al audience view, although there were still some tableaux where the dancers were placed at different angles. Everything still took its cue from the turbulent passions of Shakespear­e’s teenaged lovers, but it was a good fit for the vast expanse of the Benedum Center stage as seen on Friday night.

The audience was greeted by a new tapestry curtain, sliced into seven panels that rose and fell in different ways. Roberta Guidi di Bagno’s scenery began with stark stone towers that revolved for subsequent scenes, punctuated with mobile stalls for the market place. Oddly enough, there was a black curtain behind it all, although it served to heighten the rich colors of her costumes.

That was the least of the scenic design. It warmed up in the dark red hues of the Capulet palace, with giant overhead concentric arches, a repeating motif that served to pull the audience in like an eddy in a pool of tears, and capped with the crypt scene, dramatical­ly dominated by giant statues at the back.

But the real drama took place in the telling of the story, where Mr. Deane lifted his production by augmenting what might be termed the supporting cast. Where other ballets concentrat­ed mostly on the starcrosse­d lovers, this production had juicy roles for Alexandre Silva’s seething Tybalt (and a key figure in the well-staged fight sequences) and Robert Vickrey’s pivotal portrayal of Friar Lawrence.

More surprising was Mr. Deane’s treatment of the women, expanding their roles and giving them a more independen­t definition, such as Janet Popeleski’s perky and ever-present Nurse. Rosaline (Danielle Downey), usually a throwaway role, was featured in the opening and ballroom scenes, while a trio of Harlots (Gabrielle Thurlow, Daniela Moya and Jessica McCann) threw themselves, sometimes over-reaching, into several of the marketplac­e situations.

Lady Capulet, the always magnificen­t actress/dancerJuli­a Erickson, was given several steely opportunit­ies to build toward Tybalt’s death and took advantage of every one. And even Lord Capulet (Steven Annegarn) was more than a cardboard figure, able to howl in grief over his daughter’s “death.”

None of that took away the spotlight, though, from the title characters. Alejandro Diaz’s Romeo was picture perfect as a young man whose life was changed in an instant. He never really participat­ed in tomfoolery like his friends, Mercutio (a brilliant Yoshiaki Nakano) and Benvolio (an engaging Joseph Parr). He was meant for more and seemed to sense that.

Hannah Carter played — no, became — Juliet and her life was changed by this role, a career-defining moment. Juliet” was filled with plenty of action and boasted a high entertainm­ent value that connected with the audience.

And with the PBT Orchestra, led by the equally passionate Charles Barker and playing Prokofiev’s glorious score, it all became a sensual, three-dimensiona­l experience.

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