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Dancing a Valentine

Richmond Ballet's “Romeo and Juliet” touches the heart.

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During the Sunday matinee performance of “Romeo and Juliet,” Richmond Ballet's Shira Lanyi danced a valentine in her role of Juliet. Her performance glowed with a luminous naturalism: When she was happy, she danced for joy. When overwhelmed by the nearness of her lover, her body quivered with emotion. When sad, her anguish trailed behind her dancing body like a broken wing. So convincing was she that you almost didn't notice the lovely technique underpinning such fine acting. Almost, until she held a balance in arabesque on pointe just a second longer, or flung herself through spiraling lifts with her Romeo, danced with engaging ardor by Kirk Henning.

These two, supported by a large and wonderfully varied cast, told the old story well. Fine character actors, such as Brett Bonda (Lord Capulet), Susan Israel Massey (Juliet's Nurse), and Jerome Weiss (Friar Lawrence) amplified the lovers' plight through either heavy-handed disapproval -- Bonda as Capulet -- or sympathetic complicity. And lively groups of townspeople and troubadours -- and three saucy harlots (Lauren Fagone, Maggie Small, and Cecile Tuzii) -- surged across the stage in rich costumes by Allan Lees, weaving color and life into the fabric of the production.

Malcolm Burn's choreography and direction shone in small moments such as the lovers' first handclasp, facing away from each other and brimming with tremulous delight. Or in a bit of comic byplay as guests left the Capulet ball and one young woman unmasked, anticipating her partner's delight, only to be disappointed by a shrug of his shoulders. In larger group scenes the impact of certain moments got lost or diffused, such as the lovers' first glance, during which Juliet faced  upstage left, away from the audience; or the protracted death of Mercutio (danced as a charming class clown by Fernando Sabino) at the hand of Tybalt (a stern Justin McMillan).

Burn dealt masterful strokes to other scenes, however, as in the Capulet-Montague quarrel at the story's beginning, when the crowd on either side of the principal duelists echoed their advances and retreats, amplifying the tension of the moment and the underlying menace of the entire story.

Taken as a whole, with its luscious costumes and lighting, wonderfully spare sets, spirited cast, and above all the truly convincing passion of its lovers, Richmond Ballet's luscious “Romeo and Juliet” made a fine Valentine treat.

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