Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Romeo and Juliet at the ABT

(photo courtesy of Ballet Magazine)

Choreography - Kenneth MacMillan
Music - Sergei Prokofiev
Conductor - Charles Barker

Romeo - Marcelo Gomes
Juliet - Diana Vishneva
Mercutio - Aaron Scott
Tybalt - Gennadi Saveliev
Benvolio - Jared Matthews
Paris - Alexandre Hammoudi
Lady Capulet - Kristi Boone
Lord Capulet - Roman Zhurbin
Nurse - Kelley Boyd
Friar Laurence - Alexei Agoudine
Lady Montague - Jessica Saund
Lord Montague - Vitali Krauchenka

Last Friday I attended Romeo and Juliet at the Anerican Ballet Theater. Prokofiev composed the score in September 1935 for the Kirov Ballet (the Bolshoi Ballet had rejected the music as undanceable). The original choreography for the Kirov was by Leonid Lavrovsky.

The ABT production features Sir Kenneth MacMillan's staging for the Royal Ballet in 1965. It is a sprawling piece which emphasizes acting as much as dancing, and therefore each performance can look totally different depending on the cast.

I've seen the ballet a few times though not since Alessandra Ferri and Julio Bocca performed it a decade ago. This time, Marcelo Gomes and Diana Vishneva brought their distinctive rapport into play, and the effect was like watching a couple reenact their first romance.

As Romeo, Gomes was a rather brash heartbreaker - not innocent at all but knowing and confident in the ways of love. When he first spots Juliet at the Capulet ball, he looked like a vulture circling his prey before moving in for the kill.

Vishneva's frail beauty suited her characterization of a young girl who at first didn't know what to make of her attraction to (gasp) a boy from the enemy clan. Her tremulous bourrées conveyed her excitement and apprehension on meeting Romeo for the first time. A century ago Vishneva would have been a major silent film star - her emoting was utterly convincing, particularly in her solo bedroom scene right before she swallows sleeping potion.

MacMillan devised four duets for the principals with similar motifs but which vary markedly depending on Juliet's frame of mind (or physical condition): first at the Capulet ball, then the balcony scene, then the bedroom scene, then the crypt scene where Romeo mourns the seemingly dead Juliet and carries her around in grief. Vishneva and Gomes were astonishing in all four.

Hammoudi was a noble and sympathetic Paris. I'd love to see him as Romeo one day. Scott likewise made a wonderful impression as Mercutio - he was like an innocent pup who gets killed in gang warfare and his death scene was quite affecting

I guess it's a sign of my own, umm...  maturation that the character that I most identify with nowadays isn't Romeo but rather the Nurse, played by the excellent Boyd. These kids, tsk, tsk, what are we going to do with them.

Barker conducted Prokofiev's magnificent score with clarity and passion. The march of the Capulets had a brooding grandeur that foreshadowed the tragedy.

In spite of the dead spots (as a choregrapher, MacMillan was no Petipa, or even Balanchine for that matter) I really enjoyed this ballet. It's what ABT does best. The performance was s bit campy at times but always entertaining and ultimately very moving, as evidenced by the thunderous cheers during the curtain calls. I wish I had the time to see the other casts but hopefully the ABT will revive Romeo and Juliet again next year.

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