The language of love: ‘Romeo et Juliet’ expresses passion with a physical vocabulary
San Diego Ballet’s married principal dancers Tonatiuh Gomez and Stephanie Maiorano will play Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers
William Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet” has a timeless familiarity, with lines such as “Parting is such sweet sorrow” or “Thus, with a kiss, I die.”
But when the Bard’s tragic tale of romance is told through the movement language of ballet, it can resonate in a way that dialogue fails to communicate.
“So much of ballet should be expressing that which can’t be expressed in words,” said San Diego Ballet’s artistic director Javier Velasco. “This ballet allows us to put on stage a physical vocabulary. It allows us to tap into that feeling of love, desire and connection.”
There are many versions of Romeo and Juliet. This one is different.
In Velasco’s “Romeo et Juliet,” the big fight scenes and marketplace gatherings have been cut.
There is a garden setting, rather than elaborate town scenery or a balcony, so the focus remains on the dancers.
The core storyline, about two teenagers who fall in love despite their feuding families, remains.
Romeo and Juliet secretly marry. Their families resort to violence and Romeo kills Juliet’s cousin Tybalt (danced by Marshall Whiteley) to avenge the death of Mercutio (Jonas Olivera) , his best friend.
After saying goodbye to Juliet, Romeo goes into exile and her parents — unaware she’s already married — arrange a new marriage for her. To avoid the wedding, Juliet feigns death by drinking a potion supplied by the local friar that puts her into a deep sleep. Romeo believes Juliet has died, and in his grief, he kills himself. When Juliet awakens and sees her deceased beloved, she also commits suicide so that they may reunite in death.
Velasco said that before he cast the show, he spent a lot of time listening to Sergei Prokofiev’s dramatic score and reducing sections that accompany street scenes and the heavier parts of the story.
A sword fight, for instance, is portrayed in the background to delicate music, while Juliet and her nurse pantomime a conversation about having children.
“I really like the way that turned out,” Velasco said. “It’s one of my favorite pieces of dramatic storytelling. Innocence happening in front, unaware of what is going on in back.”
When dancers assume the roles of Romeo and Juliet, the chemistry has to be right. And married principal dancers Tonatiuh Gomez and Stephanie Maiorano have chemistry to spare.
Maiorano has performed the full-length ballet multiple times and is very familiar with the role of Juliet.
The ballet is famous for two, powerful pas de deux (duet) performances that include joyful lifts, tender gestures and even kissing. In the past, Mairoano has danced with a few different Romeos, who made certain aspects of the dance less than comfortable.
“It’s really intimate,” she said. “So, you get into the role and you act. But for Tona and I, it’s not acting. It’s going to be a ride for us. We are professionals who love each other and we love what we do.”
The pair must dance with passionate emotion, power and finesse, expressing a love that refuses to be tainted by family expectations or social mores.
The first pas de deux, when Juliet and Romeo first express their interest in each other, is flirtatious and lighthearted.
The second pas de deux occurs in Juliet’s bedroom, after the secret wedding. The tone is somber because the couple must part before Romeo is discovered.
“It’s very sensual and romantic,” Maiorano explained.
“In the beginning of the bedroom scene, I literally put my hands all over his body.”
The death scenes are a different story.
Maiorano has died a lot on stage, twice when she played two different roles in “Don Juan,” a performance she recalled as “fun.”
This time, though, it’s personal.
“Just imagining that my husband is dead — I’m not looking forward to it, to be honest. And he has a whole pas de deux of me being dead. For him, it will be so much work on his muscles, flailing my body around. I know when I wake up and see him like that ... I’m getting choked up now.”
Velasco’s “Romeo et Juliet” will be staged at the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center in La Jolla, a new venue for the company.
San Diego Ballet Executive Director Matt Carney said that it is important for the company to expand its reach and to represent San Diego’s diversity while maintaining high artistic quality.
“In the past year, we have staged shows at the Mingei International Museum, the Performing Arts Center at Southwestern College, the Grossmont College Performing and Visual Arts Center, The Magnolia (in El Cajon) and now, The Conrad,” Carney said.
“We have artists from Peru, Mexico, England and Japan along with native San Diegans, an investment that is reflective of our brand.”
Velasco added that the company used to present “The Nutcracker” at the Mandeville Auditorium and he wanted to return to the La Jolla area.
“It’s a community we have serviced in the past,” he said.
“We felt that “Romeo et Juliet” would be the best piece for that space. We last did it in 2015, so it was time to bring it back. We have the right dancers, in the right time and the right place.”
San Diego Ballet’s ‘Romeo et Juliet’
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, 7600 Fay Ave, La Jolla
Tickets: $28-$68, discounts for seniors
Phone: (858) 459.3728
Luttrell is a freelance writer.
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