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THE JOFFREY Ballet's rendition of "Romeo and Juliet" is a ballet for lovers and for lovers of ballet. The story makes you yearn to recapture feelings of youthful rapture while the dancing simply carries you away.

This is a ballet to savor.

The haunting yet dynamic strains of Prokofiev's immortal score, as conducted by Allan Lewis and performed by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in the expansive Artpark theater, come to life with romantic, fateful clarity as Capulets and Montagues duel and doomed lovers Romeo and Juliet fall prey to passionate death.

As the only American company to be given permission to perform Cranko's staging of "Romeo and Juliet," the Joffrey is particularly well-suited to this theatrical ballet. From the start, there is no mistaking that this is a production -- a tour de force of personal- ity, setting and choreography. It is both superbly acted and full of action. Swords flash, tempers flare and passions heat up the stage. And unlike many story ballets where mime replaces movement, the Joffrey's use of drama serves to enhance the dancing.

Splendid sets and costumes set the tone for this lavish theatrical ballet. Our first glance of Juliet, portrayed Tuesday evening by Tina LeBlanc, reveals not only her absolute purity of technique, but also her absolute strength of characterization. Watching LeBlanc dance Juliet is a rare treat; she sparkles with youthful vigor and mischievousness in the early scenes and later transforms herself into a woman whose experience makes her dancing fuller and robust.

Watching LeBlanc is like watching a cocoon burst open -- at first she is filled with childlike wonder as she discovers her love for Romeo -- later she is more openly sensual and passionate. She is easy to fall in love with. Her character is enhanced by the choreography, which uses repetitive sequences of steps to unify the ballet.

In scene four of Act One, for example, her tiny bourres toward and away from Romeo indicate her plight. Later in the ballet, we see the same steps repeated as Juliet decides to drink the sleeping potion.

Part of the timeless appeal of this ballet is its aspect of doomed romance, and the Joffrey's version accentuates this theme of Shakespeare's play.

The Capulets, in resplendent black and gold, dance in the ballroom scene as the menacing strains of the score foreshadow the theme; and once again we see the circularity and integrity of Cranko's choreography, which serves to enhance the story line.

The famous balcony scene has Juliet appear like an apparition. Dressed in white, she is an ethereal presence.

Romeo, gallantly and passionately portrayed by Tom Mossbrucker, is a strong and able dancer who nicely complements the petite LeBlanc.

His dancing here is filled with a sense of abandon; his port de bras virtually sweep the floor; his jetes are large and powerful.

As he catches LeBlanc in one dramatic lift after another, the two transmit a tangible sense of wonder that is later transformed to horror.

The weaving together of love and death is done with intricacy, and as the curtain falls, the memory of "Romeo and Juliet" is forever etched in our minds.

The Joffrey Ballet

Romeo and Juliet

Directed by Gerald Arpino and choreographed by John Cranko.

Tuesday at Artpark in Lewiston. Repeated at 8 tonight and at 2 and 8 p.m. Thursday. Mixed program Friday through Sunday.

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