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Boston Ballet: Cranko's Romeo & JulietWhy not in NY?


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#1 Amy Reusch

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Posted 06 November 2011 - 08:06 PM

I adore Cranko's Romeo & Juliet. It is a masterpiece.

I know there are others who are stuck on MacMillan's, but I cannot follow them. It has been years since I last saw the complete MacMillan, so forgive me if memory is misleading me... but I remember rushed group dances and in the famous pose everyone seems to use from the balcony scene, i always feel that even though Juliet looks beautiful, Romeo's neck is in an awkward position and his face seems perhaps not to have the best view of his Juliet (here is the moment I am thinking of... it happens in so many photos regardless of the company presenting it). I don't know if one likes one's first Romeo & Juliet best... but I prefer Cranko's... and I am surprised that I have to drive 2 hours to Boston to catch it. When was the last time Cranko's was presented in NY? The Joffrey did it back in 1965... so it seems curious to me that ex Joffrey dancer, Kevin McKenzie, does not present it. I know there is great interest in seeing Tudor's remounted, perhaps this complicates the mix?

My last experience with Cranko was trying to learn the lay of the 2 hours of choreography in an extremely short period of time to shoot it from radically changing and unfortunate angles to catch it for Pennsylvania Ballet's archives roughly twenty years ago. It is a different experience to sit relaxed in the audience and let it play out for one's entertainment. I fell in love all over again.

The dancers were often startlingly good... that sort of good where one has settled down into an impression of their skill, and then suddenly they pull something off that makes you sit up in your chair and think "what was that? I've never seen that step so electric before!?"... usually it's some family step one has seen many times before, suddenly illuminated to a new level of clarity ["Oh, so that's how that it's supposed to look!!"] The double assemblés en tournant by the men in the market place were so free floating and flashing... it was worth the two hour drive for them alone.

Misa Kuranaga gets through to one... by the end, one's heart is her hands... sometimes she hangs an arabesque that stops the audience from breathing... well, me anyway... it hangs there and so does time suspend itself...

Nelson Madrigal had his moments too... generally better in the second act than the first... but I want his fingertips to reach out to Juliet when he reaches to her... not to curl down relaxed the floor... and sometimes he seems to feel a little sheepish...

Sheepishness is something the post-po-mo arts world seems to have to fight. There's this inability to take nobility/heroism/romanticism seriously... inability to give it valid expression... as if the concept is only for very young children.. If one is going to make a film about oh, I don't know, King Arthur or Alexander the Great... then it needs to be full of self-conscious distancing from taking the subject seriously... Or perhaps it was just the ballet's awful mask designs of the costumer (Reminds of some Russian teenage goths scifi... not sure why... the designer's surname is Benson. Did the last production I saw of this have those horned masks? I don't remember them, but maybe the lighting was a tad dimmer?) . At any rate, it seems very difficult for artists nowadays to take any highly romanticized story and setting seriously. The last ballet I saw, Martin's Swan Lake, had even more trouble with this... though perhaps there was the choreographer and designers feeling sheepish rather than the performers feeling sheepish.

Today's dancers are so good with technique, center of balance and line... so many of these regional company dancers are even perhaps better technically than the dancers the work was created on... but all this focus on pure dance seems to have left a vulnerability in the acting skills. Gino DiMarco was so good as the Duke of Verona, the first one on stage whose acting read valid. Otherwise, I'd say most of the acting was a little... I don't know how to discribe it... "soft" maybe?... in a sort of youthful inexperience sort of way...


The corps looked uncomfortably odd in the masque scene... (but then again, those masks... I did not love this costumer designer). It is an odd style... but they lacked the gravitas the music demands. Despite Mercutio, these seem to humorless folk... was Prokofiev channelling boyars? (why I think the boyars were lacking in humor... not sure... wonder what Eifman would make of them). The costume designer also tackled the set.. the crypt was oddly airy and bright. I remember the Pennsylvania Ballet production bringing chills during the scene lowering Juliet down... didn't happen for me here... but then the orchestra sounded a little strange to me as well... at one delicate point in the music, one was suddenly very aware of the amplification.... to the point where I wasn't sure if it were live or recorded just there... was it a harp or harpsichord section?... I don't quite remember. And there were ... not sure if these are called harmonics, or what, but there are sort of echos a stringed instrument makes... that I've never heard quite like the Boston Ballet orchestra played them... a twist off subtle... but back to the costume design...

There is a thing about running with capes in Romeo & Juliet... Ulanova's famous run... I felt Nelson Madrigal was a little betrayed by the cape the costumer provided him with... it was a little as if it had been swiped from Juliet... an light fluttery piece of silken material... moved nicely, but in a feminine flutter... couldn't they have found something more appropriate for Romeo?

Swordplay in Cranko's is what one wants from a production like this. Artyom Maksakov was very convincing.

But then there is that thing about style... that thing about tossing one's head while dancing... as if even in the midst of this technically demanding feat one is relaxed enough to shake the curls out of one's eyes... little gestures of the head and eyes, if they doesn't seem natural, they look terribly labored.. Jeffrey Cirio's dancing was one the great strengths in this production, and perhaps he will grow into the part of Mercutio even more over the two week run. Jeffrey Gribbler, a natural Mercutio if ever there were one, set the bar for me. Cirio will one day jump it.

Paul Craig was an interestingly appealing Paris... which usually seems a bit part... here one was kind of rooting for Paris to get a better deal.

Adiarys Alemida was a standout as a gypsy... and of course Tai Jimenez was a cogent Lady Capulet.

I quite liked Artycom Maksakov as Tybalt... one wants to cheer his side in the market place (ok, so I'm post-po-mo too).

I brought two young teenage girls with me, one of whom had never been to a live ballet performance. The Boston Opera House* is one of those charming jewel box theaters... a palace for the ballet. The girls were totally enthralled by everything, beginning with the theater, through the spectacular dancing, Misa Kuranaga's bourees and arabesques, Jeffrey Cirio's turns and leaps... but most of all it seems by Cranko's choreography... they particularly liked the lifts Paris floats Juliet through in the Masque scene, but most of all, when Romeo pulls himself up to the balcony for one last kiss from Juliet.

I am totally with the girls on this. Cranko's choreography is a delight, no matter whether it is crowd scene, swordplay, dramatic plot advancing or romantic pas de deux. It would be worth driving to see on a company half the quality of Boston Ballet. Bostonians are very lucky indeed.

Would that Cranko had not died so suddenly, so young. I hope I get the chance to see Onegin after this recent Cranko refresher course!

________________


* But I did have to suppress my desire to shout "Bingo!" during intermission as the powder room usherette directed traffic. Those who have been there surely know what I am referring to.

#2 Anne

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Posted 07 November 2011 - 12:59 AM

I share your enthusiams about the Cranko version, and would be happy to see it again sometime. I know that the Staatsballet Berlin is premiering it in the coming spring season and hope to be able to go there. The Zürcher Ballett had it on its repertoire in the late 80'es before Spoerli took over and created his own uninspired and extremely boring Romeo and Juliet. I had the luck to see Cranko's version in Zürich a lot of times while I lived there as a student, once even with a not-so-young-anymore Richard Cragun, the original Romeo, as a guest star. In my eyes Cranko's version is the most beautiful of all versions. His ability to create lyriscism in dancing, especially in a pas de deux, is without equal.

#3 Mel Johnson

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Posted 07 November 2011 - 04:54 AM

I adore Cranko's Romeo & Juliet. It is a masterpiece. I know there are others who are stuck on MacMillan's, but I cannot follow them. It has been years since I last saw the complete MacMillan, so forgive me if memory is misleading me... but I remember rushed group dances and in the famous pose everyone seems to use from the balcony scene, i always feel that even though Juliet looks beautiful, Romeo's neck is in an awkward position and his face seems perhaps not to have the best view of his Juliet (here is the moment I am thinking of... it happens in so many photos regardless of the company presenting it). I don't know if one likes one's first Romeo & Juliet best... but I prefer Cranko's... and I am surprised that I have to drive 2 hours to Boston to catch it. When was the last time Cranko's was presented in NY? The Joffrey did it back in 1965... so it seems curious to me that ex Joffrey dancer, Kevin McKenzie, does not present it.


Joffrey had two different stagings of Romeo and Juliet, the first being a version by Oscar Araiz, which featured a double-cast of the lead principals - presumably, one pair of "real-world" and one pair of "emotional world" characters. It was difficult to follow, but skilfully arranged and Kevin was one of the Romeos. This version was introduced ca. 1980. About five years later, Joffrey decided to capitalize on his success with the Cranko repertoire, and had his version of the ballet staged by the company. This version was an outstanding success. The company did not have a complete Romeo and Juliet before Araiz. I don't believe that the company has performed the Cranko since Joffrey's death.

#4 Amy Reusch

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Posted 07 November 2011 - 06:47 AM

Thanks Mel, I was wondering whether it was still being performed when McKenzie was with Joffrey. I wonder if the Joffrey company is large enough now to mount it again... The school in Chicago seems to be growing, perhaps it could fill in the extras? It is the sort of production one might be able to inspire large donations with... But it looks huge to mount.

#5 Paul Parish

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Posted 07 November 2011 - 06:19 PM

I agree, Cranko's version is direct, imaginative, musical, and not too full-of-itself -- one of the very best. It's also one of he first, and that gives it hte natural advantage of NOT having to 'avoid looking too much like Cranko's.' He nailed it, and it's been a hard act to follow.

I saw the Stuttgart Ballet dance it here a few years ago in Berkeley and it seemed so fresh and natural, every step -- before that, I'd seen it with the Joffrey -- Tina leBlanc was a fabulous Juliet, and I THINK Ashley Wheater was Paris -- he had the most elegant legs, matinee-idol handsome, but he didn't love her; and Romeo DID love her. I think it was Philip Jerry as Romeo, very sincere dancer, wonderful cast.

My absolute favotrite is Lavrovsky's version, which is a choreodrama, virtually a silent movie, very old-fashioned, but brilliant beyond anything. He uses crowd movement in fascinating ways, he uses the overhead space -- it's almost like the tree-line on a mountain, the crowds occupy the stage up to a certain height and then htere's "open air" -- to create a realm where whatever happens is visionary -- including every lift for Juliet, which is actually a great percentage of the choreography. And there's the dancing at the ball for everybody, but otherwise it's kinda only the lovers who DANCE. SO poetic.

Cranko's is one of hte first where it's all dancing most of the time; he keeps it moving. Macmillan's marketplace scenes can seem to grind on and on, and I've actually felt myself thinking, 'God no, not back to the marketplace again.'

I must say, Michael Smuin's version was very very good; like Cranko, he could keep it moving, andhte poetry of hte lovers was ardent.

#6 4mrdncr

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Posted 07 November 2011 - 10:10 PM

I've been trying to get to Boston and get tix to this for a while--but weather and family circumstances constrained me. Hopefully I'll see it this week and can report afterwards. Also looking forward to seeing the three former Corella Ballet dancers who are now soloists at BB.

I saw Joffrey Ballet do Cranko's "R&J" and "...Shrew" several times during the '80's in L.A., afterwards I saw all the versions BB did and am glad they have finally chosen to stick with Cranko's. I like Cranko's staging and general choreography best, but MacMillan's pdd's more. I was also fascinated by how much of Cranko was incorporated into MacMillan's choreography.

I'm glad someone besides me remembers Smuin's (actually I seem to remember more details of the pdds than other.)

#7 Amy Reusch

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Posted 08 November 2011 - 06:10 AM

I think I remember seeing Smuin's on television... and liking it, but it was so many years ago... (I think I may have been a teenager). I would like to see it again to get a sense of it. I can always hope it will some day show up on Youtube!

#8 its the mom

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Posted 08 November 2011 - 09:23 AM

While I enjoyed the performance of Boston's Romeo & Juliet, I felt there were some key issues lacking. One would assume that most people know the story of Romeo & Juliet, but dramatically speaking - 1) there was only one small reference to the Tybalt/Lady Capulet relationship in the ball scene, therefore when Tybalt is killed, one must wonder why Lady Capulet is so very, very distraught and is led out of the scene on top of him; 2) Mercutio's death is missing the curse upon both houses; 3) it is not clear that the potion given to Juliet is only intended to make her sleep and not die; 4) there is no reference to the letter which is supposed to get to Romeo (but never does) to let him know what is happening; 5) Romeo stabs himself rather than drinking poison; 6) Paris' death is somewhat altered. I realize that getting all of those details into the ballet could be quite cumbersome.

As far as dancing, I found some of the choreography awkward (especially in the pas de deux work) and unnecessarily difficult. I felt sympathy for Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio - however impressive doing more than 20 double tours is, it has got to be difficult (especially to their bad side, as it was for Madrigal and Cirio). I thought Madrigal was at home in this role and his expertise in partnering was evident. I saw two shows, both with Madrigal and Kuranaga as the leads. Tybalt was played by Yanowsky in the first show I saw, and he was a real standout, and I much preferred him over Maksakov. (This could be because it was the first time seeing Maksakov on stage, or due to the fact that he was a bit nervous.) Maksakov dropped his sword at one point, and I was a bit worried he wouldn't recover. Interestingly, I was told afterward that Cirio (playing Mercutio) broke his sword, and while in the air and with his back to the audience, yelled, "sword," and Isaac Akiba, who played Benvolio, threw him another sword. I thought it was all part of the sword choreography.

I do agree that the corps looks young and sometimes unnatural in their acting abilities. They are, indeed, a very young corps and there were even some trainees on stage.

Interestingly, I spoke to a teacher from the Boston Ballet school who said the same thing as many have stated - that the Smuin version (which he danced) is actually a very good version. Boston used to do Goh's version, I believe. I have never seen that one either.

So far, I still prefer MacMillan.

#9 Amy Reusch

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Posted 08 November 2011 - 10:58 AM

I did notice the issue with the poison instructions and found it odd at the time. I do not remember this issue from 20 years ago but it could be it wasn't a videography issue so with everything else to deal with it didn't stand out in my mind... Or perhaps something has changed? I also felt the crypt scene was stronger before... Not sure why. I stand by my preference for Cranko"s partnering. I did think some of the qualities in the opening trio of Mercutio, Rome & Benvolio looked "off" as if they didn't quite get what they were doing and trying extra hard over danced it rather than played with the movement to make it work.

#10 its the mom

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Posted 08 November 2011 - 02:54 PM

I agree, I felt the crypt scene was stronger the last time I saw it several years ago. I was wondering if the difference for much of it for me was that the last time I saw it, it was performed at the Wang, which is a much bigger stage. Some of the marketplace scenes seemed so crowded and it was hard to catch everything that was going on. Well, I'm a little biased about the three guys, as Cirio is my son and Akiba has been his friend growing up. I do know that many of the guys are exhausted as they are doing double duty - Cirio playing both Benvolio and Mercutio, and the other Mercutios and Benvolios required to be Montague men in alternating shows. With both rehearsals and shows, I calculated that some of them did over 150 tours in a few days.

#11 Amy Reusch

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Posted 08 November 2011 - 05:25 PM

Your son is extremely talented and you have much to be proud of. I've also enjoyed your daughter's rise through the corps to principal and her guest appearences (I believe, if I remember the face) with Alla Nikitina's small productions. My daughter and her friend were totally entranced by your son. The tours are beautiful!

#12 its the mom

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Posted 09 November 2011 - 08:11 AM

Thanks so much. Yes, that's right. Both my dk's love Alla!

#13 sandik

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Posted 13 November 2011 - 10:08 PM

I saw the Stuttgart Company in Cranko's Romeo in the early 2000s in NYC. I remember liking the production a great deal, but not many details.

And yes, the telecast of the Smuin production for San Francisco was very affecting. At the end of the first big fight scene, a townswoman comes straight downstage carrying the body of her young son who was killed accidentally. It was a surprising and powerful image, and has stayed with me since that broadcast, which was how many years ago?

I think I like the film version of the Lavrovsky better than the actual stage version. The only time I've seen it live it's seemed very cramped on the stage -- the film has much more freedom. (not to mention Ulanova!)

But I think that you've put your finger on a very important element here

Sheepishness is something the post-po-mo arts world seems to have to fight. There's this inability to take nobility/heroism/romanticism seriously... inability to give it valid expression... as if the concept is only for very young children.. If one is going to make a film about oh, I don't know, King Arthur or Alexander the Great... then it needs to be full of self-conscious distancing from taking the subject seriously ... At any rate, it seems very difficult for artists nowadays to take any highly romanticized story and setting seriously.


We do live in ironical times, and the self-commentary of much post-modern dance makes it difficult to take a big, sweeping interpretation of a role. I see this in classical ballet, certainly, but also in older modern dance. Thinking about Humphrey's moral individuals in her abstract choreography, the larger-than-life Graham characters, and the Limon repertory -- it's so difficult for a dancer to stand still and command attention now.

#14 Hamorah

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Posted 18 November 2011 - 02:41 PM

I saw the Stuttgart Ballet performing Romeo and Juliet some years ago now, so I too don't remember all the details. One of the things I don't really like about Cranko's choreography is that he tends to repeat quite long passages, as if he's run out of things to choreograph. The same thing happens in Onegin, which I love, but in that seemingly endless pas de deux in the first act, they actually start again from the beginning - true the music also repeats itself, but still. Unfortunately, what I do remember about the performance I saw of R & J was that they used real fire in their ornamental beacons and one of them caught the curtain alight next to it. The audience held its collective breath wondering what would happen and when the guy dancing Romeo pulled the curtain down and started stamping out the fire, they closed the stage curtains in rather a hurry! The performance started again after a few minutes, but it was scary for a while there!

Although I saw the Bolshoi's Romeo and Juliet first, MacMillan's Romeo has always been my favourite. For me his pas de deux are what makes all of his ballets special. I read that he used to start by choreographing the pas de deux and then worked on the crowd scenes, so I imagine that he found the latter harder to create. His balcony scene stands on its own as a masterpiece and is often shown at Galas as a set piece. I remember going to the Covent Garden exhibition in the 1960's. As part of the exhibition they showed a recording of Fonteyn and Nureyev in the balcony scene. I just stood there and watched it over and over again.

Ashton also choreographed a version of Romeo, but I didn't find that as strong as Macmillan's. Nureyev's version has a rather wierd pas de deux with homosexual undertones between Romeo and the priest, which I thought was unnecessary. I know of two other versions by in-house choreographers, which for small companies were very good, but for me Macmillan's is still the most powerful.

By the way I have performed in both R & J and Onegin in recent years (I now do character roles) and we presented both ballets before audiences of school age children, not connected to dance, as part of the cultural programme for schools. When the ballets started it took the children time to enter into a totally different world from their normal experiences - there were even a few whistles when the soloist came out in white tights - but slowly the drama captured them and the storm of applause at the end was amazing. Someone mentioned a feeling of sheepishness in the acting he/she saw, but I think romantic tragedy can still be appreciated nowadays - if the cast believe in what they are performing, the audience will too.

#15 Vicx

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 02:01 AM

I'm new to Ballet Alert and so appreciate the insightful commentary. Someone said that our first Romeo and Juliet will always be our first love. Mine was on film with Nureyev and Fonteyn. While living in Vienna in the '60s I travelled to a small town in Germany to see the Kirov. Included in the festival was R&J with Marcia Haydee and Richard Cragun. Who knew? I was just a girl who liked ballet. Loyal as I was to Nureyev and Fonteyn, and knowing nothing of the Stuttgart company, I sat back with a "show me" attitude. My, oh my, did they ever. I could feel myself leaning forward inch-by-inch until I literally hung over the railing, barely breathing with joy until the final tearful moment. Two San Francisco Ballet versions later, Romeo and Juliet still breaks my heart open and gives my spirit reason to live.


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