Romantic, but real

The Sacramento Ballet celebrates Ron Cunningham’s 25th anniversary with Romeo & Juliet

From playing with dolls to playing with fire, girls grow up so fast these days.

From playing with dolls to playing with fire, girls grow up so fast these days.

Photo By jackie pinto

Romeo & Juliet, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; $17-$70. The Sacramento Ballet at the Community Center Theater, 1301 L Street; (916) 552-5800; or Through October 21.

Community Center at Howe Park

2201 Cottage Way
Sacramento, CA 95825

(916) 927-3802

Artistic director Ron Cunningham’s 25th anniversary as the Sacramento Ballet’s leader is honored in this season, which the company begins this week with Romeo & Juliet. Cunningham has dubbed it “the finest choreography of my career.” He created the piece in 1992, and this will be fifth time the company has mounted it.

It’s a story everyone knows; the music is Prokofiev’s, from the 1930s. But the dancers’ moves and the spin on each scene are strictly Cunningham’s. He has some considered opinions.

Juliet, for instance: In some versions, she’s a skinny waif. In others, she’s a gutsy girl getting what she wants—Romeo, in bed.

Cunningham’s take on is more like “a continuum. When we first meet Juliet, she’s still a child, playing with a doll. When they introduce Juliet to [the nobleman] Paris, it’s hard to imagine her being married—she’s so young.”

She blossoms quickly, though, upon meeting Romeo at the ball. It’s “someone with whom her soul connects,” said Cunningham. “I do it with a very gentle pas de deux, tentative and shy. I fall more to the romantic side and try to make that realistic—the innocent idea of perfect love, as opposed to hot and steamy.”

Cunningham opens with “a very short prologue.” The curtain rises, and characters are briefly identified so that as the tragedy unfolds, the audience will grasp who’s doing what to whom.

“I identify Romeo as a dreamer reading poetry,” he said. “Mercutio is a party guy. Benvolio is the ‘good buddy.’ Tybalt is a hothead.”

Cunningham adds to Mercutio and Tybalt’s brawl in the marketplace. Cunningham has Tybalt “start molesting the girls, slapping one to the floor,” setting up Mercutio’s fateful decision to draw his blade.

He hired veteran fight choreographer Dexter Fidler, who coached Robin Williams in the film Hook, to guide the swordplay.

“When the big brawl happens, it’s very realistic,” Cunningham said. “We have women running and a child who is inadvertently killed. You hear real swords swish in the air, and the scrape of steel. It’s pretty real.”