Love on a grand scale

Houston audience first saw Stanton Welch’s Romeo and Julie in 2015. The production returns to the Houston stage for a two-week run for the first time since its premiere, delivering the same emotional and visual punch today as it did seven years ago.

Based on the Shakespeare story and performed to Prokofiev’s timeless score, Romeo and Julie is set in the 15th century. The titular characters, young members of warring houses, fall in love at first sight. Unfortunately, Juliet already has a suitor, Paris. As her family pressures her to marry Paris, Juliet secretly marries Romeo and then hatches a plan to fake her death in order to elope with him. Tragically, the plan goes awry and Romeo, believing her to be dead, takes his own life. Juliet wakes up to see her dead lover and, heartbroken, kills herself.

The main roles are perfectly cast. Principal dancers Connor Walsh and Karina González appeared as Romeo and Juliet during the show’s first weekend in February. Not only are the two exceptional performers, they have palpable chemistry. It is unmistakably clear, from the first moments of the ballet to the curtain call.

Houston Ballet leads Karina González as Juliet and Connor Walsh as Romeo in Stanton Welch’s Romeo & Juliet. Photographs by Lawrence Elizabeth Knox (2023). Courtesy of Houston Ballet.

Chun Wai Chan, a former Houston Ballet principal dancer who recently left the company to join New York City Ballet, will return to Houston to perform as Romeo opposite Melody Mennite’s Juliet for the show’s second weekend (March 3-5).

Walsh and González are second to none, and Chan and Mennite are second to none. Both couples are exquisite in their different but equally sublime performances.

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During the opening night’s performance, it is González’s Juliet who was most transformed during the action of the story. In the first act, she is an innocent, happy young girl. When she sees Romeo, she instantly falls in love. Her innocence gives way to new and exciting experiences in his arms. In the second act, she visibly grows in her sensuality and desire. And in the third act, she is a completely fed-up woman fighting to hold on to her lover.

Openly queer soloist Harper Watters is Count Paris, Juliet’s worthy but nonetheless rejected suitor. If Romeo were removed from the situation, Paris would be a perfect match for the young Juliet.

Watters and González perform two pas de deux that are strong and majestic. They suggest the wonderful possibilities of the mating. Hopefully we’ll see more of Watters and González together in the future.

The entire company, members of Houston Ballet II (the pre-professional company), and the Houston Ballet Academy combine to fill the stage. The ballroom and market scenes are impressive, not only in their size, but also in their precision.

The large cast includes Prince Charmings of every stripe. Along with Connor Walsh’s heroic Romeo, Harper Watters is singularly noble in her performance as Paris. Houston native Jack Wolff is equal parts witty and daring as the ever tipsy Benvolio.

Several other dancers deserve special mention. Naazir Muhammad as Prince Escalus, and Luzemberg Santana as Mercutio, are both magnificently regal in their roles. Every time Muhammad, a soloist, or Santana, a semi-soloist, take the stage, they demand our attention.

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And it’s wonderful to see Steven Woodgate, one of the company’s four ballet masters, reprise his role as the priest who secretly marries Romeo and Juliet, and later masters Juliet’s tragic plot to fake her death. (Audiences last saw Woodgate in “Good Vibrations,” a version of the Beach Boys anthem.)

Prokofiev’s impressive score, Welch’s intricate and powerful choreography, and the dancers’ first-rate performances are matched in excellence by costume and scenic designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno.

She provided towering backdrops that sail across the stage – huge tapestry-like curtains that reflect Italian Renaissance paintings alongside danceable, flowing dresses and exquisite military uniforms. The houses of Montague, Capulet, and Escalus each have dozens of members. Each dancer had to be obviously related to the house by color, but also stand out as an individual. No easy task, but Guidi di Bagno gave each dancer enough detail to distinguish them.

What: Houston Ballet’s Romeo and Julie
When: Through March 5, 2023
Where: Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Avenue
Info:, 713-227-2787

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