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Looking the part

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I attended Boston Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet yesterday afternoon.

I spoke afterwards with two people who had seen it previously with a different cast. They commented that they had especially enjoyed this performance because Romeo (danced by a dashingly handsome corps member, Sabi Varga) and Juliet (danced by frail-looking soloist Sarah Lamb) looked the part of fresh, young lovers.

What performances have you seen where the dancing was good, but you came away thinking that the dancers had not really pulled it off because they didn’t look the part?

Alternatively, what performances have you seen in which the dancers were cast against physical type, but pulled it off brilliantly anyway?

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Cynthia Gregory was too robust for me to take her Giselle seriously. The Giselle who crystallized her appearance for me was Zhanna Ayupova. As soon as she came ballonnee-ing out of her cottage, I knew that THAT was the face.

I adore Darci, and I haven't seen her Sleepwalker in many years, but she was very girl-next-door in a role that needs mystery and aloofness. This has the effect of making the poet into an absolute weirdo. I'd like to see her take another try at this role.

For R & J, I like the idea of plain-looking leads. That would suggest that they had an immediate spiritual connection. No question in the Zeffirelli film that Hussey and Whiting would be so powerfully drawn to each other -- weren't we all? ;) I like to know that what's going on is more than just the joy of beholding a beautiful face while in the throes of adolescent hormonal surges. Of course, before we get to the face, we need performers who are up to the job.

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I was fortunate enough to see the classic cast against type in Romeo and Juliet - Margot Fonteyn in her late forties dancing a fourteen year old. I never for a moment doubted that she was the character - but I suppose her small stature helped since she was significantly smaller than the parents and other authority figures around her. (A friend of mine who is in her late thirties recently did Shakespeare's R&J and was amazing, again because she is tiny.) But Fonteyn was especially good because as childlike as she was in the first scenes, she progressed dramatically as Juliet is forced to make more of her own decisions. The scene where she sits on the edge of her bed with the potion from Friar Lawrence was riveting because she clearly was not a little girl any more.

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I liked Lorena Feijoo's Giselle more than I expected, although I wouldn't call it a wildly successful example of this type of casting.

I'm not sure if Fonteyn as Juliet qualifies as an example of casting against type. It was a regular theatrical practice for older dancers (and actresses) to play younger women; on the stage, where the performer is at a distance from the audience and controls his effects, this is less of an issue than it is for film and television. There was a saying that an actress had to be forty in order to play Juliet properly, and while I wouldn't agree with that in a literal sense, it's true that while Romeo and Juliet are kids, the emotions they are called upon to display are adult-sized, and performers who are too young tend to be not up to the demands of the parts. (I speak as one who thought Zeffirelli made a bad mistake casting Hussey and Whiting. Too young, too bland, too unformed as actors and people.) I think this is true for R&J in ballet as well. A young dancer can look more like Juliet than the matronly Ulanova, in her snood; but she may not have the artistry to explore the fullest possibilities of the role.

Maybe Gregory was too robust for Giselle, but does the latter always have to be frail and wispy? Spessivtzeva, in the very brief film clip, looks like a big hearty girl.

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Dirac, you are probably right about Fonteyn, except that she was competing with young women who were much more the type in reality than she was.

I guess I don't buy the fraility argument as absolutely dramatically necessary with Giselle since you can argue that she dies not of a heart attack but of a broken spirit. (Her first act visions of the wilis are intimations of mortality, not necessarily angina). A robust Violetta in Traviata doesn't work but the illness defines her persona and her motivations much more than Giselle where it is her unguarded innocence (or naivete).

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Guest yardred

I agree that looking the part is most of the battle but a really intelligent dancer can transcend the "image" of a role, make it their own and become the part

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