Posted 11 February 2013 - 05:00 PM
I'm sorry for the length, but I've still got some stuff I've been mulling over -- I saw the production four times over the first weekend – dress rehearsal and three performances – as well as a panel discussion, so these are pretty random notes.
From the panel discussion before the dress rehearsal:
Gaby Baars (stager) -- Maillot tried to make more down-to-earth movement, like the language we speak everyday. Maillot is “not a counter,” uses music to get artists involved with the steps, feeling a story rather than telling a story. He develops movement through a collaborative process, he is still very active in the studio. Maillot is “not a hair person” – doesn’t need the ballerina to have long hair. (but Kaplan said he liked hair longer)
Jerome Kaplan (costume designer) – Glad to revisit the designs, a chance to finesse their construction (original production had several last minute changes, so much was made on the fly) Maillot wanted a style lighter than the traditional Renaissance costume drama. It is “a big salad of styles,” with quotations from Fortuny and Vionet for the women and Asian influences for some of the men. Capulets and Montagues are color coded light and dark.
James Moore (Romeo) – Repeating the role means a certain level of familiarity and comfort with process, know where to go, what to do, when the costume change is fast and when it’s faster. It’s good to have the technical challenges under control so can deal with emotional work – the acting is the harder part for him.
Kaori Nakamura (Juliet) – Also repeating the role, the first time through it was hard to get the contemporary vocabulary in the body. Both she and Moore were very pleased to get more coaching with these roles “100s of corrections!”
From the performances:
Mercutio enters with a girl, and flirts around, but Tybalt comes on to every woman he sees. In some productions of R&J the relationship between Tybalt and Lady Capulet is quite sexual, but here it seems like Tybalt is a co-conspirator rather than a lover. We got Bold for all the performances in the first weekend, and he uses the breadth of his chest as part of his character. It would be possible to play Tybalt in a more sinuous fashion, contrasted with Mercutio’s quickness, but Bold’s upper body strength is more about stability. This is Porretta’s third time out with Mercutio, and he’s still finding nuances in the gadfly aggression. The tragedy of this character is that he just doesn’t know when to stop, and Porretta really gets the momentum of that quality. Ezra Thomson had his first turn with the part this year, and he made a really nice first take. He’s got the sense of go, and the essential egotism of the character – next he could start clarifying the timing, especially the moments when he needs to hold a shape or a focus.
The fight scenes are fascinating, in part because they are almost a semaphore system – no weapons and very little miming weapons – Maillot has found a lot of ways to show conflict without using standard actions.
I talked about the difference in the three main female roles in a review, but I’m still mulling it over. Juliet is the big, naturalistic role – it’s like Giselle in that it shifts all over the map emotionally, but stylistically it doesn’t really vary, you could put some words in her mouth and she’d make a very realistic film heroine. The Nurse and Lady C are very different characters in that way – they are distilled in a way that is very familiar in dance dramas where you deal in metaphor and stereotype all the time. Lady C is closely related to Graham’s dramatic heroines – there are moments with her that I think her choreography is out-takes from Cave of the Heart. And the Nurse seems to come from the commedia heritage that eventually gave us music hall, vaudeville and sitcom performances – she is a monumental stock character.
Korbës and Nakamura really do seem to have different approaches to being Juliet – Nakamura’s performance feels like a carefully calibrated series of choices, each leading to the next, inexorably heading to doom, despite all good intentions. It’s really lovely to see such clarity. Watching Korbës, you think that it’s entirely possible that the two lovers might escape all the trouble in their world and find a long, happy life together – it’s a miserable surprise each time they come to grief. There are all kinds of ways to look at their different performances, but I really noticed their choices in the balcony scene this time through. In the production, the balcony is a ramp that comes downstage from about mid-height (it’s on a hydraulic lift, so the upstage end of the ramp actually goes up and down – effective, but a bit daunting for the performers) – at one point Juliet slides down it a couple of feet as if it were on a playground. Juliet sits there for several measures while Romeo is dancing for her – it looks like there isn’t specific choreography there for the Juliet, since each performer I’ve seen has made different choices. Nakamura sits with her knees up and her head tilted slightly as she watches Romeo (James Moore) – when we look at her she is looking at him, and so we do too. Her stillness is quite lovely, and very intentional. Korbës approaches this moment very differently. She slides down the ramp, she shifts back and forth, she leans back and shifts forward, she is almost vibrating with excitement – “there he is, and he’s looking at me, and I’m looking back at him.” Our attention shifts back and forth as if we’re watching a conversation, and we are, actually. It reminded me of the distinction my acting teacher used to draw between naturalism and realism – they were both very effective tools, but they were not the same thing.
We got the tall Lady Capulets in the first weekend (Laura Gilbreath and Lindsi Dec) which makes the Graham references read really clearly. Neither one seems to be trained in that practice – they weren’t doing classical contractions from the Graham technique – but they were far away from the upright, gradated torsos of their own ballet training, and seemed to relish the opportunities to use that momentum. One thing that I found very interesting with this Lady C was her relationship to Paris. Although she’s certainly in cahoots with Tybalt, there’s an erotic charge in her work with Paris – she’s paired with him at a couple of key moments, and he seems far more familiar with her than you might think a potential son-in-law would be. I asked Laura Gilbreath in a Q&A about this, and she said that she didn’t really get a lot of specific direction from the stagers about that relationship – it seemed like it might be flirtatious to her, so she went with that impulse (which was quite effective onstage). Paris often seems like a cipher in other productions (in the Baz Luhrman film, he wears a space suit in the ballroom scene, bright white and padded – it just emphasizes how distant he is from the rest of the party) but that lack of specifics means that a choreographer can, if they’re interested, add something to the mix. Here, Maillot seems to want to give us a Paris that could be part of the family intrigue – since Lady C is the only adult in the household, by aligning himself with her he could be putting himself in the main position of power. There are several ways he could play his relationship to Juliet as well -- for the most part this Paris seems disgruntled that she’s not enthusiastic about his proposal, but there’s one moment in the bedroom scene that really interested me. After the Nurse chases Romeo out the window, Lady C enters to tell Juliet she’s going to marry Paris. He follows her, and when he goes to greet Juliet, most of the time it seems like he’s going to kiss her, and she rejects it. But a couple times during the first weekend, it seemed to me that he actually sniffed her, as if he could smell the sex. This could be a really powerful moment, but I’m not sure if it’s in the choreographer’s directions or a choice from an individual performer. Other people I’ve asked saw it as well, so I don’t think I’m hallucinating, but we’ll see if it sticks around.
I love the Nurse in this production – I love the wacky qualities that Maillot has given her in her first scenes, which makes her transition at the end even more dramatic. She has some classic shtick (the doubletake when Juliet flashes her --“I’m a woman now, see!?” and the long, loopy off-balance sequence in the market square when she’s passed from man to man around the stage in one long reaction to a kiss and grope, arriving back at center stage just in time for another one. She reminded me of Shelly Duvall as Olive Oyl in the Robert Altman Popeye as she wandered down the street -- her feet never pointed in the same direction twice.) This time around, I really saw the joke in the bedchamber when she surprises Juliet and Romeo in bed – she gathers up the sheet and looks back, thinking to see the two of them on the bed, but he’s rolled off the back to hide. The nurse starts to shake out the sheet, as if she’s managed to bundle him up in it, but cannot figure out where he’s gone – the double take moments are such a gift to the performers, and of course to us! We got three nurses in the first weekend, and they each got further along on their trajectory with their performances. Imler has been at it the longest, and so is making some of the deepest choices. She’s been working in comedic stuff off and on for several years, but I think it’s actually her natural sense of timing (rather than something she knows about comedy specifically) that is really serving her here. She knows how to hold a beat to let the audience respond to a moment or an effect, she knows how to clear away extra stuff to show the bigger picture. Her doubletake when Juliet flashes her is just lovely – she drops her weight when she drops her jaw, which means that even people in the balcony can get a kinetic hit off the comic moment. Her extended arm gestures when she beckons Juliet to “come here” made me think of the old Laugh-In gimmick of the “Fickle Finger of Fate.” Foster has a slightly different approach – she’s making longer phrases that don’t have the beats separated out – it’s a more film version of comedy than music hall. Watching her is like watching a pen scribbling on a unrolling sheet of paper – she’s ping ponging through her environment. Mullin gave an excellent debut in the part, showing us the moments in the phrases, but now she needs to decide which ones she feels are the most important and act accordingly. She’s really getting closest in the business with the bed sheet – she could start with that.
We got Karel Cruz as Friar Laurence for the entire first weekend, and it was nice to see how much further he’s gotten with this part. There’s still a little too much silent screaming in this ballet for my taste (not just the Friar, but other characters as well – I don’t really see much in someone mimicking a scream – I’d rather that the choreography find a movement equivalent for that expression) It’s interesting to think about who has power in this production – the Friar starts each act, literally starts it, giving the cast a cue to begin the action, and in a couple of cases seems to have the power to slow things down, but cannot actually change the trajectory of the story – he makes it clear from the start that it’s doomed.
Malliot seems to like playing with fabric – he’s got Juliet dancing with a gold scarf in her bedchamber, Romeo uses a bloody bandage to strangle Tybalt, and, in a scene that’s just this side of too icky, Juliet pulls a long red scarf from Romeo’s jacket in the last scene, using it to strangle herself. The audience had a lot of questions about that effect in the post-show sessions – the most dramatically sensible answer that Boal had was that it represented Romeo’s heart – now that he was gone, she sacrificed herself with it. I found it uncomfortably close to the action in Graham’s Cave of the Heart, where the Medea character pulls a long red scarf from her costume, almost as if she was gutting herself – Graham uses the prop in a series of astonishing maneuvers, as a snake, a curse, a goad – it’s such an indelible image I was shocked when I first saw Maillot use something that similar. But he’s got several moments in this work that seem to borrow fairly iconic images from other choreographers – several of Juliet’s moments with the gold scarf are a match for Wallkowitz’s drawings of Isadora Duncan, and the long white scarf/strip of stiffened mesh that the Acolytes manipulate during the wedding scene looks very much like the white scarf from Alvin Ailey’s Revelations.
I really like Malliot’s ballroom scene – his corps rush in and out, running through traffic patterns rather than pacing along deliberate versions of Renaissance dances. Their headlong energy adds to the momentum of the drama, rather than acting as a physicalized version of social conventions, which often happens in other productions of the ballet. Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio have some great business in these scenes, monkey-wrenching the activities and trying to get away with mischief. At one point, Mercutio and Benvolio look like Tweedledee and Tweedledum as they bob up and down sneaking across the stage only to pull the classic little-kid maneuver of not looking at someone they’re trying to hide from (“if we can’t see him, he can’t see us”) Ben Griffiths was scheduled to dance Benvolio all weekend, which gave us a chance to appreciate the nuances he’s been bringing to the part. His Benvolio is such a Sunny Jim – Boal mentioned in one of the Q&As that he’s been looking for this one moment after Tybalt kills Mercutio, and Benvolio is so upset that he actually shoves Tybalt – very unlike his character – and when I went to watch it the next time, I was really struck by it as well.
Everyone who’s interested in the company has already heard about the last-minute cast substitution on the first Sunday matinee, but I wanted to say how impressed I was with the whole thing. Eric Hippolito learned huge chunks of intricate choreography for the first scene, and gave a great performance – he deserves big recognition for that. But it was fascinating to see Raphael Bouchard’s version of the character -- his Benvolio is a little less sweet and a little more randy than Griffiths, but has the momentum of a bouncy puppy. As I understand it, he went on here without even meeting some of the people he’d be dancing with, so as he pulled a girl onto his lap in one of the crowd scenes, a piece of business we don’t do here, it could have just blown up in everyone’s faces – it’s a real testament to how professional everyone is, that they gave such a wonderful, assured performance at a time that we would have forgiven almost any mistake.
Comments from Q&A sessions:
Company was originally going to do Diamonds in New York but NYCB is performing it this season, so changed to Concerto B
Boal on changes in tempi from previous performances “Kershaw felt he was the designated representative of Prokofiev and Maillot did not agree”
Rachel Foster is learning Front Porch of Heaven, possibly to perform
Angela Sterling has made a book of her photographs, possibly available in the gift shop.
Laura Gilbreath and Jerome Tisserand are indeed getting married this summer
Boal said he danced a balcony scene when he was with NYCB, but didn’t mention whose
And apparently Balanchine choreographed a balcony scene at one point, but it’s lost now.
Boal says he’ll announce the 1013-14 season “soon” (but it’s looking like Giselle will be there…)