Dominic Walsh Dance Theatre

May 19, 2006

Paola Georgudis as Juliet and Dominic Walsh as Romeo in Walsh’s
Romeo and Juliet
Photo by Jim Caldwell, courtesy Dominic Walsh Dance Theater

Dominic Walsh Dance Theatre
Cullen Theatre, Wortham Center, Houston, TX

May 19–20, 2006

Reviewed by Nancy Wozny


Dominic Walsh’s new version of Romeo and Juliet reads more like an opera than a ballet. It’s not just because the parts of Lord Capulet and the Nurse are sung, or because of an impressive onstage chorus. It’s the merging of dance, spoken text, song, and a substantial set, in such a complete package that it doesn’t seem to matter who is dancing, speaking, or singing. The audience sees the piece as whole. Even when the dancers burst into Shakespeare’s blissful syllables, it seems right and natural. The acclaimed Mercury Baroque, playing an arranged Vivaldi score live, ramps up the opera feel even more.

The story may be familiar, but Walsh’s treatment feels fresh. Snippets of text move the action along, anchor us to a particularly moving passage, or amplify threshold moments in the story. Kudos to dramaturge and voice coach Rob Bundy for letting the dancers sound like dancers who choose to speak, rather than dancers trying to be actors.

The dancing comes and goes, lending time and space for drama to unfold. Romeo (Walsh) dances a slippery duet with Mercutio (Spencer Gavin) that is rich with boyish, rambunctious foolery. They slide down each other’s arms and peek into negative spaces like frisky puppies. Gavin’s tough-boy punkishness lends a taste of West Side Story.

Paola Georgudis’ Juliet, full of adolescent awkwardness, conjures a first-time belle of the ball with her stiff, self-conscious smile and jerky gestures. And what a party it is—like a bacchanalian orgy, complete with a pair of gypsies and a steamy duet between Lady Capulet (Andrea Dawn Shelley) and Tybalt (Domenico Luciano). Walsh amplifies this backstory as a way of illuminating the trials of love. Later Lady Capulet dances with Tybalt’s corpse in a raw, nearly erotic manner that’s equally riveting and disturbing.

Georgudis’ awkwardness disappears as Juliet grows up quickly. With her liquid upper body and understated style, she moves into her own in the second act. Walsh’s most intricate work appears in his duets with Georgudis. They tangle and untangle in ways that seem to defy the rules of the body, creating a metaphor for their self-created turmoil. The love scene sets limbs flying as if they are just now learning how their bodies work.

Jorge Ballina’s stunning, square, fabric frame morphs from balcony to bed to chandelier to crypt with cloudlike grace, while Fabio Toblini’s elegant costumes suggest rather than define a period. A few glitches marred this otherwise spectacular drama: Juliet’s out-of-place, shrill scream; jarring amplification; and too much onstage costume changing. Lighting designer Nicholas Phillips has the last word, bathing the dead lovers in a watery, rippled light. As the frame descends, the lovers appear to ascend, and a smoky glow lingers in the solemn, quiet air. See