Miami City Ballet to close 25th season in a big way with million-dollar “Romeo and Juliet”

By Sean Piccoli


Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra will open Miami City Ballet's "Romeo and Juliet" Friday night at the Arsht Center in Miami. Photo: Lois Greenfield.

The choice to spend $1 million on a single production comes easily to some classical dance companies. Miami City Ballet is not one of those companies — a point CEO Edward Villella volunteered in discussing the upcoming premiere of Romeo and Juliet, which opens Friday night at the Arsht Center in Miami.

“We have to be very careful when we make these kinds of commitments,” said Villella, the company’s founding artistic director. “This is one of the more ambitious productions MCB has taken on in terms of scale, cast and every other element.”

Choreographed by John Cranko to Sergei Prokofiev’s celebrated score, this re-telling puts Shakespeare’s “star-cross’d” young couple in luxurious surroundings. with elaborate sets and costumes, 50 dancers and a 56-member orchestra.

The Cranko version of Romeo and Juliet, premiered in Stuttgart in 1962,  arrives with a legacy of great performances. Bringing this elaborate production to Miami is a source of pride for Villella.

With a budget of over $1 million, this Romeo and Juliet is also something of a gut check for Miami City Ballet as it concludes its 25th anniversary season.

Just acquiring the rights to Cranko’s choreography was “very, very costly,” Villella said. The production itself has required larger-than-usual investments in costumes, scenery, lighting, stagehands, trucking and rehearsals.

The challenges posed by Romeo and Juliet don’t end with elevated costs.

“It is a uniquely challenging work for the dancers to master physically, emotionally and artistically,” observed Roma Sosenko, Miami City Ballet’s principal ballet mistress.

It has already sent one dancer to the sidelines: 18-year-old corps dancer Skyler Lubin, who might still get to portray Juliet in May if she recovers from a leg injury sustained last year during rehearsals. Lubin, talking by telephone, said she was “80 percent” healed and back in sneakers after a stretch in an orthopedic boot.

Lubin, who was 17 when she began learning the role behind the principal dancers, is unusual among ballerinas chosen to play Cranko’s Juliet in that she is close in age to the character. Shakespeare’s Juliet Capulet is just shy of 14 when Romeo Montague — older but not by much — walks uninvited into her life at a masked ball.

Not that advancing age has proven to be an impairment. Stuttgart Ballet’s Marcia Haydée was playing Juliet well into her 30s. Galina Ulanova, of Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet, was a year from retirement when she danced as Juliet in the Leonid Lavrovsky staging that came to New York’s original Metropolitan Opera House in 1959. Villella, who attended that performance, said, “She was 49 years old at the time but, my God, she looked like a teen-ager. It was amazing.”

The Juliet at Friday’s opening, principal dancer Jennifer Kronenberg, admits to some disparity in age between herself and the female lead. “As one of the more … shall we say, ‘experienced’ dancers in the company,” Kronenberg wrote in her blog, “it has been an especially fun journey for me to revisit the emotional mindset of a fourteen year old.”

The catch, she and others in the production note, is that 14 years old in medieval Italy, among the ruling and warring families of Verona, is nothing like adolescence in 21st Century America.

“I never think of Romeo and Juliet as children. They are expected to grow up pretty fast,” said Jane Bourne, the Stuttgart Ballet choreologist and repetiteur who is coaching the  Miami dancers in the intricacies of the Cranko production.

One challenge for Kronenberg is to depict the rapid maturing that is forced on Juliet when she falls in love with the son of a hated rival family.

“Where she’s really more naive and innocent … I think you go into everything with a little more gusto and a little more abandon,” Kronenberg said in an interview, discussing how to dance Juliet in the first act. “She’s sort of at the point where she’s not thinking before she leaps. She just leaps.”

As the story unfolds, and Juliet’s choices become more difficult and complicated — more adult — Kronenberg said she tries to express a kind of “caution” born of Juliet’s suddenly, sometimes violently, changed circumstances. “I think you can show that easily with body language and facial expression,” she said.

One element that comes easily to Kronenberg as Juliet is falling for Romeo, who is played by her husband, principal dancer and fellow company member Carlos Guerra.

Performing with Guerra “adds something great,” said Kronenberg. “It’s much more real. The feelings aren’t fabricated.”

Guerra recalls dancing as Romeo years ago in a production in his native Cuba, where his relationship with the ballerina playing Juliet was purely professional.

“This is so much easier now,” he said. “I don’t have to think, ‘How should I kiss her?’ This is my real Juliet. How great is that?”

Villella has no doubt of his cast’s ability to handle the artistry and intricacies of Cranko’s epic, almost cinematic approach to Romeo and Juliet. (The popular treatment of Prokofiev’s ballet choreographed by Kenneth McMillan offers a more intimate, psychological portrait of the young lovers.)

The leap of faith for Miami City Ballet is mainly financial and logistical. Long recognized for its artistry, the company also lives within limits dictated by location. Miami, for all its glamour, is  one of the country’s poorest large cities as measured by median and per capita income.

But there comes a point where a company’s finances, and its choices, have to catch up to its stature and ambitions. MCB is nearing that juncture.

“We are at a point where I’m fond of saying we’re poised,” said Villella. “We’re at a point where we can do almost any ballet, and what I mean is any ballet we have the resources for.”

Miami City Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet will be performed Friday through Sunday at the Arsht Center in Miami; April 1-3 at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach; and April 29-May 1 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale.; 305-929-7010, 877-929-7010.

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One Response to “Miami City Ballet to close 25th season in a big way with million-dollar “Romeo and Juliet””

  1. Posted Mar 28, 2011 at 7:10 am by Venetia

    I went to the Saturday matinee performance and was overjoyed by the performance. I was worried that the matinee would be the B rated principals, but they were magical. The costumes and sets were lavish, and the live orchestra was spectacular. My husband and I have limited disposable income for attending performances, but we are seriously considering become season members.

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Tue Mar 22, 2011
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