The Sacramento Ballet opened co-artistic director Ron Cunningham's 25th anniversary season Thursday night in grand style with the sumptuous "Romeo & Juliet," a ballet Cunningham describes as "the absolute best choreography of my career."
No doubts were left after the performance before an very appreciative audience at the Community Center Theater.
The evening opened with Cunningham and his wife and co-artistic director Carinne Binda acknowledging the season and the dancers.
And then the beauty of Shakespeare's tale of young love and feuding kin unfolded.
In the market square in the city of Verona, sellers push their wares as friends and relatives of the two families - the Capulets (Juliet's folks) and the Montagues (Romeo's folks) - mingle and then mix it up.
Fiery Tybalt (Richard Smith) engages Romeo's buddies, a quick-tempered Mercutio (Christopher Nachtrab) and a playful Benvolio (Oliver-Paul Adams), and swords are drawn.
Dexter Fidler's dueling sequences are masterful. The audience easily picked up the swooshing and metal-on-metal sounds.
Sergei Prokofiev's soaring score complements each act and individual scene, none more so than at the Capulet ball, where attendees, dressed in regal red and gold attire, slice back and forth across the stage. At the ball Juliet meets a masked Romeo.
Amanda Peet and Stefan Calka have mastered these challenging principal roles. She matures from a young girl with a nurse to a young woman caught up in an all-consuming romance. After their first embrace, he can hardly bear to be parted from her.
Their two pas de deux - the balcony scene in Juliet's garden and in her bedroom after their secret wedding - are exquisite both in technique and raw emotion. Cunningham notes that the balcony scene was danced to the full score - 11 minutes of magic set against a starry backdrop.
Kudos to Steve Odehnal's lighting design for the entire ballet but these two scenes in particular.
Cunningham himself delivers a sweet turn as Friar Lawrence. He not only presides over the wedding between the giddy lovers but crafts the ill-fated plot to protect the newlyweds' secret marriage.
Peet and Calka will repeat their roles Saturday night, and Alexandra Cunningham and Richard Porter will take them tonight and Sunday. Also, look for familiar faces as former Sacramento Ballet dancers Michael Separovich and Nina Baratova reprise their roles as Lord and Lady Capulet.
If you're saying to yourself, "I saw this ballet in 2011, what's different?"
The choreography is still Cunningham's original. What's elevated is the intensity and passion in both the dancing and acting. It's intoxicating. And, after Sunday, "Romeo & Juliet" won't be seen again until the 2017 season.
Don't let this powerful love story pass you by.
Romeo & Juliet
What: The Sacramento Ballet opens co-artistic director Ron Cunningham's 25th anniversary season with Shakespeare's tragic love story.
When: 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: The Community Center Theater, 1301 L St., Sacramento
Cost: $17-$70 at the Community Center box office
Running time: Two and a half hours with two intermissions