COURTESY ERIK TOMASSONSan Francisco Ballet's lavish "Romeo and Juliet" is choreographed by Helgi Tomasson and designed by Jens-Jacob Worsaae.

S.F. Ballet's ‘Romeo and Juliet’ fresh and vital

Shakespeare's “Romeo and Juliet” is more than four centuries old: Ballet versions first appeared in the 1700s; Sergei Prokofiev wrote his exciting score for the ballet in 1935; and the premiere of San Francisco Ballet's current revival of Helgi Tomasson's choreography was 21 years ago.

With all the uncounted repetitions such longevity entails, San Francisco Ballet's Saturday matinee in the War Memorial proved fresh and energetic, and, being the last program in the troupe's five-month-long season, particularly noteworthy.

The highlights came through powerfully: the great fight scenes (choreographed with Martino Pistone), the mighty ballroom and romantic balcony scenes, the sweet sorrow leading to the tragic, yet uplifting, finale.

Jens-Jacob Worsaae's flawless design has a grand stage and lavish costumes; and, unlike some previous presentations, the production has a seamless, smooth flow. (With two intermissions, it still clocked in at fewer than three hours.) In 11 peformances in Program 8, company dancers are alternating in the lead roles.

At Saturday's matinee, Mathilde Froustey and Carlo Di Lanno performed the title roles for the first time in the War Memorial. Froustey was a striking, unusual Juliet, playful but not childish at the beginning (Shakespeare's Juliet is 14), more lyrical and romantic as the story develops, and heroic in death. The French ballerina combines solid technique with committed, brilliantly athletic performance.

Tall and elegant Di Lanno danced Romeo with dashing, sweeping movement, strong in fights, romantic in courting Juliet. In a role typically given to a principal dancer, Di Lanno, who joined the company as a soloist last year, made a winning appearance.

Pascal Molat shone as Mercutio in the ballet's most popular role, teasing and defeating the rival Capulets until tragic death sends his friend, Romeo, into exile.

Joseph Walsh as Benvolio, Luke Ingham as the militant troublemaker Tybalt were equally speedy, tireless and athletic in the large cast, which also featured standout performances by Anita Paciotti as the Nurse and Wan Ting Zhao as Rosaline (Romeo's object of affection before meeting Juliet).

Prokofiev's grand score received first-class treatment from the orchestra under Ming Luke's direction. Dave Henderson's saxophone and Anna Kruger's viola solos were outstanding.

REVIEW

Romeo & Juliet

Presented by San Francisco Ballet

Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. May 5, May 7-8, 7:30 p.m. May 6, 2 and 8 p.m. May 9, 2 p.m. May 10

Tickets: $37 to $385

Contact: (415) 865-2000, www.sfballet.org

Casting

May 5, May 7 – Maria Kochetkova, Davit Karapetyan

May 6 – Vanessa Zahorian, Joan Boada

May 8 – Mathilde Froustey, Carlo Di Lanno

May 9, 2 p.m. – Dores Andre, Luke Ingham

May 9, 8 p.m. – Zahorian, Boada

May 10 – Sarah Van Patten, Carlos Quenedit

artsDanceHelgi TomassonRomeo and JulietSan Francisco Ballet

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