Miami City Ballet opened its season Friday with its grand production of Romeo and Juliet, giving a whole-hearted performance at the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Ziff Ballet Opera House. With some fine renditions of the leading roles, notably Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg and husband Carlos Miguel Guerra as the doomed lovers, and a scene-stealing Kleber Rebello as Mercutio, and gorgeous, operatic-scale set and costumes borrowed from the National Ballet of Canada, Romeo and Juliet is a rich evening that looks to be a major crowd-pleaser for the troupe.
But compared to the company’s debut performance of this ballet three years ago, this Romeo and Juliet is as much façade as monument. As with last spring’s rendition of Don Quixote, another big three-act ballet in MCB’s repertoire, this Romeo and Juliet suffers from a multitude of small failings and lack of attention to detail that dilute the ballet’s impact. You may not see them, but you will feel their absence. The first time MCB did Romeo and Juliet, it brought you inexorably to tears. This time, not so much.
Part of what makes choreographer John Cranko’s 1962 version of Shakespeare’s tragedy so renowned is its masterful layering of musical and choreographic details, which accumulate to bring the characters and drama to life. But at the Capulet ball where Romeo and Juliet meet, ragged body positions and rhythm in the ranks of ornately gowned revelers, parading to an ominous theme in the Prokofiev score, weakened what should feel like a relentless army of tradition grinding over the lovers’ fragile joy. Moments that should pop into high relief — as when Kronenberg, trying on a dress, discovers her budding breasts; or when Nathalia Arja, the most fiery and vivacious of three gypsies, chomps on the arm of the bullying Tybalt (Reyneris Reyes) — slip by.
Kronenberg was beautifully passionate and convincing as Juliet, floating in girlish wonder at the ball, diving and soaring in growing ecstasy with Guerra in the balcony pas de deux. The scene where she struggles through her fear to take the drug that will save her from her wedding was masterful. She and Guerra, her real-life husband, have terrific chemistry (they do seem to enjoy their kisses), and it’s a pleasure see them dance together again. Guerra gave a vivid portrayal of Romeo, sincere, his boyish impulsiveness and sincerity growing into fatal passion. His acting made up for a blunting of his technical edge — his turns are rougher, his leaps not as sharp or high as before, most noticeable in romping trios with younger buddies Mercutio and Benvolio (the lithe and whip-sharp Renan Cerdeiro).
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Rebello, who was out last season with an injury, made a fantastic return as Mercutio. Sinuous and charismatic, as elegant popping up from a somersault as in flying leaps and his characteristic snaking gestures, a sharply confident comedian, Rebello was the center of every scene in which he appeared.
The company as a whole brought an engaging esprit to the animated scenes in the town square. As Juliet’s cousin Tybalt, Reyes’s sensuous menace was blunted by stiffness. Callie Manning gave a strong portrayal of a cold, controlling Lady Capulet, whose agonized reaction to Tybalt’s death hints at a more-than-familial affection. Didier Bramaz was smooth but rather bland as Juliet’s suitor Count Paris. Jovani Furlan was adroitly gymnastic as a fantastically costumed King of the Carnival leading four antic, clownlike figures. Jeanette Delgado was lively but lacking in depth as Juliet’s nurse, a part that was a waste of her fantastic dance abilities. Such lack of detail in the acting, the style, the understanding of character and motivation, muted the power of Romeo and Juliet.
The curtain call included a surprise tribute to Kronenberg’s 20th year with Miami City Ballet, with her and Guerra’s toddler daughter Ava, in tiara and black velvet dress over white diapers, making a surprise appearance. The warm, enthusiastic reaction from the audience was richly deserved.
(Note: casting for Romeo and Juliet will vary, with Kronenberg and Guerra, Patricia Delgado and Renan Cerdeiro, and Jovani Furlan and Emily Bromberg alternating in the title roles.)
If you go
What: Miami City Ballet in "Romeo and Juliet"
When: 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, 305-949-6922
Info: $25 to $175 at 305-929-7010 or miamicityballet.org