Full-length ballets are not just about dancing, they're also about acting. Tales told without words must hone other means to convey a range of event and emotion. When Pennsylvania Ballet opened John Cranko's Romeo and Juliet at the Academy of Music Friday night, the storytelling was first-rate.
Julie Diana - who really is from Verona, albeit the fair city in New Jersey - plays her namesake Juliet as every bit the young teenager she is in Shakespeare's play - playful, impulsive, and intensely emotional. Her long periods on stage allow audience members to enjoy what we normally see only in passing, including her stunningly beautiful, arched feet and subtle facial expressions. When Amy Aldridge, as Lady Capulet, insists her daughter dance with Count Paris (James Ihde), Diana dutifully promenades off with him - but her eyes remain flirtatiously on Romeo until the last possible moment.
While Diana's solos are generally strong and buoyant, her partnering is sometimes shaky. But trust and understanding how one's partner will react make all the difference, and her Romeo on Friday night was her real-life husband, Zachary Hench (who proposed to her on stage the last time Pennsylvania Ballet danced Romeo and Juliet in 2005). She performed complicated turns in his arms, and fell backward secure in the knowledge that he would be there in time to catch her.
Their balcony scene was particularly sweet, with Romeo climbing to help her off the balcony to dance with him, and later lifting her back up in several steps.
Gabriella Yudenich played Juliet's Nurse as a younger, more forgiving confidante than I'd often seen - a refreshing perspective.
The pageantry of the entire evening was glorious, particularly in the large scenes in the courtyard and at the Capulets' ball.
But there were trouble spots in the dancing, particularly with one step, the men's double air turns, of which there are plenty in this ballet. The mistakes were most noticeable in a trio of Romeo dancing with his friends Mercutio (Jonathan Stiles) and Benvolio (Andre Vytoptov). Almost none of their turns were completed at 720 degrees - two full rotations - and they never were in sync. What should have been a fun, showy scene just looked messy.
But that was early in the evening, and most of the rest of the ballet was beautiful, thought-provoking, and passionate. The curtain calls were a reassuring relief: Romeo and Julie(t) were not just alive, but in love again.
Presented by the Pennsylvania Ballet, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday and at 2 p.m. Saturday, at the Academy of Music. Tickets: $24-$129. 215-893-1999 or www.paballet.org.