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“Romeo & Juliet” is one of the greatest love stories of all time. It’s also one of the most tragic. Shakespeare’s tale of two star-crossed lovers is brought brilliantly to the stage in the Sacramento Ballet’s production, with continues through Sunday at the Community Center Theater.
The ballet opens the 25th anniversary season of choreographer Ron Cunningham and his co-artistic director (and wife) Carinne Binda with the dance company. Cunnigham has reworked the ballet, which had its premiere with this troupe in 1992, and has only made it better.
The plot is familiar to practically everyone, although seeing its story danced rather than spoken may be a new experience. The program provides a fine synopsis of the story and breaks it down scene-by-scene. Luckily, the Sacramento Ballet troupe has dancers who also are skilled in acting. There is no doubt, seeing the dreamy look that crosses Amanda Peet’s face (as Juliet) when she glimpses the dashing Stefan Calka (as Romeo) that this is love at first sight. Likewise, the testosterone-fueled confrontations that begin among Romeo’s friends Mercutio (Christopher Nachtrab) and Benvolio (Oliver-Paul Adams) and Lady Capulet’s nephew Tybalt (Richard Smith) before expanding into full-on, deadly sword fights are made palpable by the angry faces and the fierce, athletic attacks of the dancers.
Peet and Calka are perfectly paired as the young lovers. Their pas de deux -- first as innocents in the balcony scene and then as parting lovers -- are finely drawn and perfectly executed. Calka’s lifts are sure and smooth, and Peet’s pointe work is remarkably sturdy. (Alexandra Cunningham and Richard Porter dance the roles in some performances.) Nachtrab and Adams display humor in playful scenes with their friend Romeo and are aggressive in their attacks on Tybalt. Porter dances the part of Juliet’s suitor Paris in performances when he isn’t dancing as Romeo. (Calka takes the role of Paris in those shows.)
There is a huge cast for this ballet -- about three dozen total -- and they add colorful atmosphere as townspeople of Verona, where the story is set, They are moved about the stage smartly in market scenes and in courtly encounters. Several dancers have featured roles and they bring personality to those parts. Nina Baratova as Lady Capulet gets to go mad (figuratively, if not literally) at the death of her nephew Tybalt; Michael Vester is commanding as Prince Escalus, trying to quell the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets; Lynn Towne is humorous as the Nurse to Juliet, but is convincingly distraught upon her charge’s “death”; and Ron Cunningham has a cameo as Friar Lawrence, who marries the pair of young lovers and concocts the plot that ultimately ends in the tragic deaths.
Cunningham’s greatest achievement as choreographer here is in perfectly matching movement and emotion to the music of composer Sergei Prokofiev. Whether the music calls for innocence or anger or grief, Cunningham has just the jete, leap or languorous look that’s needed. He knows his dancers and plays to their strengths, which are many.
The Sacramento Ballet’s “Romeo & Juliet” continues at 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Community Center Theater, 1301 L St. Tickets cost $17-$70 and are available by calling (916) 552-5800, ext. 2 (ballet studio) or (916) 808-5181 (box office), or in person at the theater box office.