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Busy Boston Ballet star makes time for Passover

Journal Correspondent

Isaac Akiba, Paulo Arrais, and Derek Dunn in John Cranko’s “Romeo & Juliet.” Photo: Liza Voll, courtesy of Boston Ballet

MARCH 29, 2018 – Isaac Akiba keeps his life and his art in equilibrium. As the Jewish Boston Ballet soloist recently told the Journal, “I try to balance the busy [dance] season and staying close to my traditions.”

As Passover approaches, Akiba continues to dance the featured role of Benvolio in many of the company’s performances of “Romeo & Juliet” (through April 8) and performs during the entire run of the modern work ”Parts in Suite” (through April 7). At the same time, he is making sure to attend a Seder, this year – because his family is away – with a Brazilian Jewish family of close friends. “It always means a lot to me to take part with family and friends,’’ said Akiba, 29, who grew up in Jamaica Plain.

That connection with family, friends, and heritage is integral to Akiba’s dancing as well as his Jewish observance. This summer he plans to head to Israel.

“I want to take a greater part in the dance scene there,” he said, referring to The Israeli Ballet in Tel Aviv and the Kamea Dance Company in Be’er Sheva.

As for his role in “Romeo & Juliet,” he reflected, “Benvolio is definitely a peaceful man who feels close to his family [his cousin Romeo] and friends [both Romeo and Mercutio].  He kind of follows Mercutio and looks up to him. Benvolio may be a little bit of an outsider, but he definitely has high values and morals.”

Akiba spoke with enthusiasm about John Cranko’s choreography. “Cranko does a wonderful job with the story,’’ he noted. “He’s a master storyteller.”

Dance buffs and Boston Ballet fans will find that Jane Bourne’s staging and Gabriel Heine’s conducting are as masterful as the ballet itself. Bourne brings grace and flair to the first act Capulet ball and fires up the townspeople’s rousing second act tarantella and carnival clowning. Heine sharply captures the haunting passages as well as the soaring ones in Sergei Prokofiev’s exquisite music.

On opening night, Paulo Arrais as Romeo and Misa Kuranaga as Juliet (casts alternate through the run) danced with great heart and technique as the ill-fated lovers. Arrais had all of Romeo’s spirit and adventurous nature in his electrifying turns and leaps and in sequences with Akiba’s Benvolio and Derek Dunn’s Mercutio. Kuranaga found Juliet’s early diffidence and her ongoing vulnerability. Akiba moved with the right protectiveness as Benvolio tried to keep Romeo from retaliating against Tybalt for killing Mercutio. Dunn evoked Mercutio’s playfulness even as Romeo’s witty friend moved closer and closer to death. The trio perfectly fulfilled Cranko’s dance combinations.

Maria Alvarez was a standout as the aloof Lady Capulet, especially when she displayed over-the-top grief for kinsman Tybalt.

Boston Ballet introduced the pleasures of Cranko’s “Romeo & Juliet” to the Hub in 2008. The company’s meteoric rise under artistic director Mikko Nissinen makes the current revival a benchmark achievement and a must-see treasure.

“Romeo & Juliet,” Boston Ballet, Boston Opera House, through April 8; 617-695-6955 or bostonballet.org.

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