The Lobero was buzzing for the March 23 evening performance of Romeo and Juliet by State Street Ballet. After a challenging season that saw the company’s annual Nutcracker canceled due to the Thomas Fire, ballet fans young and old were out in force to welcome the dancers back to the relative intimacy of the Lobero, a perfect venue for Rodney Gustafson’s two-act version of Sergei Prokofiev’s masterpiece of Shakespearean adaptation. With an angelic Deise Mendonça in the role of Juliet and international superstar Aaron Smyth as Romeo, the production could rely on a firm central pair to provide the armature around which whirled a festive cavalcade of sword-wielding gallants and saucy maidens.
Prokofiev composed this unforgettable music at the height of Stalinism. After presenting an initial version with a happy ending in which Romeo realizes Juliet is still alive and they escape together, the composer and his collaborators learned that this was not acceptable to the party. Upon restoring Shakespeare’s original tragic ending, the librettist Radlov is reported to have said that he was “not prepared to die so that Romeo and Juliet can live.” There’s still plenty of festivity in the ballet, and Gustafson’s version includes loads of thrilling “excursions” — that’s Shakespearean for “sword fighting.”