Among the themes that make humanity what it is, passion and vengeance are arguably the most poignant. Cleo Parker Robinson’s double bill of “Romeo & Juliet” and “Porgy and Bess” made for a moving and emotional production. The packed audience at the historic Cleo Parker Robinson Theatre was rapt with attention as the curtain opened to a group of live musicians placed onstage. The vocalists, Erica Papilion-Posey and David Sweet, hardly needed their microphones; their strong voices filled the air as the dancers matched their energy. Liveliness filled the stage, the dancers in light and colorful costumes while Bess, danced by Ralaya Goshea, stood out in a sleek red dress. The scene was a contrast of the disabled and crippled Porgy with the smooth, strong, full of vitality Bess.
Porgy, the disabled man living in the slums of Charleston, was danced by the talented Edgar L. Page. It cannot be underestimated how difficult it is for a classically trained dancer to portray a physical disability; made even more difficult in this case as Porgy’s infirmity was one of his feet. Page danced skillfully, clearly showing the pain and struggle of the character, while maintaining the grace of a dancer and the strength of a partner. In one particularly challenging section of the pas de deux, Page lifted his partner overhead in a seated lift, all the while maintaining the appearance of a crippled character.
The male partnering sections displayed a great deal of virtuosity, with particular credit going to Davry Ratcliffe dancing as Sportin’ Life, Bess’ drug dealer. His dancing was incredibly smooth, with turns ending on the ball of the foot in a perfectly positioned still life.
The ensemble of the company was completely in sync, both in energy and in dance. One of the more special aspects of a show by Cleo Parker Robinson dancers is the knowledge that they create a community of dancers—backstage before the show, you would witness them standing in a circle, sending around positive energy. This dynamism carries beyond the stage and up into the highest seats of the theater, inviting each audience member to join the dancers’ journey. Synchronicity of this type carries onto the stage and into the movement, each dancer carefully watching the other to ensure togetherness. This newest version of “Porgy and Bess,” one of three created by Cleo Parker Robinson since 1995, showed the range of the entire ensemble.
For its second act, the company tackled Prokofiev’s “Romeo & Juliet.” If one came to the show with the expectation of seeing a classical version of the ballet, one would be very surprised by this interpretation, which originally premiered in 2012. Cleo’s version introduces us to a Romeo & Juliet living in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, with influences of African dance and goddesses.
As Cleo discussed during the introduction to the show, the goddesses were imposed as an “additional cultural layer” of New Orleans. These included the goddess of the earth, Ane; the goddess of the crossroads, Elegua; and the goddess of the oceans, Yemanja. Each goddess appeared during transitional and impactful moments of the story.
The Montague and Capulet families were smartly costumed in opposing colors of blue and red, enhancing the introductory choreography showcasing the conflict between the families. The choreography seemed influenced by West Side Story with an African twist, with Romeo, danced by Martez McKinzy, and Juliet, danced by Chloe-Grant Abel, exchanging a rose while tensions between the Capulets and Montagues escalate. Romeo and Mercutio, danced by Edgar L. Page, danced a teasing scene that was both well-acted and performed, and had the audience chuckling as Mercutio teased Romeo with the rose gifted by Juliet.
During the classic pas de deux set to Prokofiev’s iconic music, the addition of drums and vocals enhanced the African influence to the story as Yemanja, danced by Theresa Berger, slowly swept onto the stage. While the sensual pas was brilliantly choreographed and danced by the lovers, the overwhelming costume of the sea goddess distracted from their simple nude leotards and overpowered the classic music.
Another musical misstep occurred during the fight scene between Tybalt and Mercutio: the music was far too light-hearted and energetic for such a somber scene. Tybalt, danced by Davry Ratcliffe, had a particularly stunning death, ending with a slow and controlled backward contraction to the floor. The scene ended with the powerful Cedric D. Hall as Death, laughing terrifyingly and dragging Tybalt and Mercutio offstage to the afterlife.
The iconic death scene of Romeo & Juliet was missing a dramatic moment when Romeo realizes that Juliet is “dead” (though she is but sleeping, as the audience knows). The music in this scene was also very upbeat for such a somber occurrence, and the lovers seem quite separated in their deaths. There was no final caress or embrace, which left the audience desiring that emotional connection that continues into the next world. However, the final, and powerful moment when Romeo and Juliet are simultaneously lifted into the air by the ensemble was a heartbreaking one and served to move the audience to tears.
These two vastly different tales of tragic and difficult love came together to form a wonderful production. Cleo Parker Robinson has once again brought the community together to witness a cultural display of diversity and dynamic virtuosity.
Briana Selstad Bosch is a Denver native. She trained in classical ballet with the late Karen Williamson of American Ballet Theater, Kris Kehl of Colorado Ballet, and Carla Parks’ Academy of Classical Ballet. She went on to train at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and Colorado State University with Melissa Corr and Jane Slusarski-Harris, While at CSU, Briana obtained her degree in Technical Journalism. Following her undergraduate study, she went on to achieve her Master’s in Business Administration from the University of California – Irvine, while training in dance at the Maple Conservatory and working on the brand management team at Disney. Following graduate school, she returned to Denver, where she danced with Ballet Ariel for four seasons and performs guest artist work.
Briana founded Ballet5280 in 2017, a ballet company that strives to create a healthful and supportive environment for dancers. They are in their first season.