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ABT's Romeo & Juliet 1/28/2010



Kenneth MacMillan's "Romeo and Juliet" is a ballet that relies on its two leading dancers more than other ballets do. In Petipa, if the leads are mediocre, one can still be delighted by the elaborate patterns of the corps, the brilliance of the soloists' choreography, or the grand spectacle his ballets generally present. MacMillan's choreography is weaker than Petipa's, and I spent a good deal of the ballet waiting for the principal dancers to come back on as the choreographer fumbled about with the crowd scenes, trying to create a lively, exciting atmosphere but never really succeeding. Fortunately, the leading dancers were worth waiting for, even though the performance got off to a slow start.

In my opinion, Juliet is one of Julie Kent's best roles (I also enjoy her Giselle). In this performance, I did not find her totally believable in Act I. As a fairly tall dancer with a calm stage presence, she does not project that sprightly, childlike energy of a girl who has just entered marriageable age (perhaps 14) in the Renaissance, so the business with the doll did not really seem plausible. The ballroom scene was better, as it allowed her to display her smoothly polished classical line (Kent has perhaps the purest line in classical ballet today; never a harsh moment) and gave us a look at how easily she is able to communicate what her character is thinking and feeling.

Marcelo Gomes is, of course, the ideal Romeo, with his elegant line and noble presence, and he, too, did not really come alive until the ballroom scene. That is an understandable way to play the role, but I think it would be more effective for us to get a sense of who Romeo is before he meets Juliet so that the contrast registers more strongly.

Mercutio is the sort of role in which Herman Cornejo specialises, and he played it very well tonight. It's easy to go over the top with MacMillan, but Cornejo struck just the right note of witty playfulness without coming across as overly caffeinated or annoying. His quick, agile technique allowed him to zip right through the sometimes oddly put together steps, and his death scene was realistically but not melodramatically played. It felt right.

Act III is where the drama really gets going for Juliet, and here Kent really let loose from the decorum of the ballroom scene. During the bedroom pas de deux, I had the sense that her Juliet felt she was not going to see Romeo alive again, and she used that to create a kind of inarticulate, almost irrational desperation that was very effective.

Victor Barbee was a commanding, majestic, threatening presence as Lord Capulet--perhaps the strongest personality in the ballet. His Lady Capulet (Stella Abrera) did not have the same regal manner or acting skill, and mainly resorted to stylised swanning around.

While this is not my favourite ballet to watch due to its many weak points (essentially everything the corps has to do as well as MacMillan's feeble attempts to tell the story through either dance or very abbreviated, vague mime) Kent and Gomes brought out the best in the choreography and created a moving, heartfelt drama.


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