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Romeo and Juliet


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This is only the second time I have seen the Atlanta ballet so I'm a little leery of commenting, but so little is written about the company on this site, I thought I would try to post something.

For Valentine's day weekend they have been performing their version of Romeo and Juliet, and they will be performing it next week as well. It is "choreographed and directed" by Michael Pink -- I gather that the company has danced other full length works by Pink including his Dracula. His Romeo and Juliet uses the Prokovieff score and is very Macmillanesque. (According to the program Pink trained at the Royal and later worked as an assistant to Nureyev for a production of his -- Nureyev's, that is -- Romeo and Juliet).

The few outright original touches include a voice over at the very beginnning and closing of the ballet. The overture opens with clashes of thunder and and flashing lights to suggest the accompanying lightning and we hear "Two houses both alike in dignity etc." while we see behind a scrim the two lovers standing side by side and then collapsiing; at the ballet's final notes, just as Juliet dies, we hear, similarly the play's final lines. I was actually rather touched by the end of this performance and the voice over at that exact moment came close to spoiling the moment for me.

Everything in between the voice overs was pretty familiar. The opening fight scene was staged a little more lowbrow than Macmillan's (fewer swords, more kicked crotches, and lots of food being hurled about); later in the ballet Juliet kept getting into wide open second positions on point -- presumably to express sexual arousal, and she appears at the end of Act II to witness the pile up of dead bodies (Mercution/Tybalt). The Verona festivities on the whole were a somewhat simplified version of what one usually gets, the 'pillow' dance music at the ball given some violent, 'macho' touches -- the men's part is performed as a dagger dance and, well, I could list a few other variant details, but they hardly changed the basic Prokoviev Romeo and Juliet template. (Also, my memory of other productions, Macmillan et. al., has become increasingly vague, so I may have thought something was 'original' that wasn't.)

In its at times watered-down and at times tarted-up familiarity, this was very much a provincial Romeo and Juliet, but it had the benefits of a good live orchestra, serviceable sets and even better costumes. Most importantly, it had the benefits of a company that looked to be giving themselves over to the whole performance with a great deal of energy and concentration.

The one other Atlanta Ballet performance I saw this season was another full length ballet-entertainment (Eldar Aliev's Arabian Nights) and the company brought a similar quality of energy and concentration to that. I'm now quite won over by them as a group. I even thought the technical quality of the dancing, which was very uneven in the Arabian Nights. was somewhat better in Romeo and Juliet. but the demands on the ensemble in Romeo and Juliet are not that great (from a technical or classical point of view) and there are fewer soloists in roles that expose them as classical dancers. By Act III, which was primarily over-the-top pantomime, one could also see that the dancers' sheer engagement in what they were doing could not quite make up for the fact that they aren't the most accomplished mimes in the world, but their work came close enough to make this a satisfying evening.

I saw the "third" cast -- Naomi-Jane Dixon and Joe Roesner were the leads. His dancing and even his acting were low key, but personable and he had a wonderfully finished and 'ardent' quality to his upper body. Along with the Mercutio (Brian Wallenberg) and the Benvolio (Tuan Shuai) he impressed me, too with his attention to line. He and Shuai especially often had a kind of light elegance that carried from the top of their heads through their legs. None of the three men were firecrackers, but it was at times a relief that all the male kibbitzing had a more nonchalant quality than in some other productions. The other thing I will say about Roesner is that he really dances...I know that sounds like an absurd thing to say about a dancer. I mean something like he moves *through* the steps rather than just doing steps. (I sometimes think that what I mean when I say so-and-so "really dances" is what other people mean when they describe a dancer as musical, but I'm not sure.)

If Roesner was most impressive from the waist up -- I initially was most impressed by Dixon from the waist down. In her first appearance, she showed some wonderfully quick and articulate footework. She was a very young Juliet, girlishly happy, girlishly frightened, girlishly hysterical. There was some growth in the character, of course, but the girlish never entirely disappeared. Act III in this version calls for lots of histrionics. From upstairs, where I was sitting, it was effective enough, but I don't think she is a great actress. The pas de deux throughout went smoothly and had a fresh unaffected quality. Roesner and Dixon seemed very connected, though they did not quite achieve the quality of free spontaneity in the lifts that the choreography, such as it is, calls for. Still, my companion (who had never seen a ballet version of Romeo and Juliet in any form) thought the balcony scene was "rapturous" and the reaction was not unearned by the dancers. The bedroom pas de deux emphasized the lovers state of semi-undress (not my favorite approach).

These dancers were surrounded by the usual array -- Lord and Lady Capulet, Tybalt, Paris, Friar Lawrence etc. I thought Lady Capulet had the most beautiful costume and the most beautiful hair style of the entire production. She seems meant to be a striking figure in this production as she is played very young, very attractive, and decidedly in love with Tybalt. My cast had Emily Cook in the role and I liked her a lot -- I felt that she was one of the best performers on stage at conveying what she was feeling without going over the top (of the admitedly already over the top staging) or, alternatively, having lapses into amateurish hand signals as a few of the other dancers did. But even when I felt dancers weren't quite getting things right I always felt they were 'inside' the ballet and they kept me there too.

Dance-wise, I did notice a range of abilities on stage whenever there was ensemble dancing, especially ensemble dancing that involved point work or classical steps of any kind. But even when skill levels varied, everyone seems to have been carefully rehearsed to dance effectively together. One fault that undermined several set pieces was that in at least three ensemble dances and even in one of the pas de deux the dancers got noticeably behind the music. All the times this occured the dancers were dancing together, so I didn't initially notice anything wrong, but when the music ended they would still be completing a dance phrase -- e.g. turn-fall-to-knee or some such. It was very obvious and just as obviously not intentional. Several scenes that met with silence from the audience would probably have garnerd (perfectly approriate) applause if the dancers had been 'on' the music.

One other note: the company performs in a masonic temple turned movie palace turned performing arts venue, the 'fabulous' Fox theater. Fabulous is the theater's PR moniker and quite accurate. Its biggest claim to fame is that Gone with the Wind had its premier there. I doubt it's ideal for dance -- certainly some of the sightlines aren't -- and the stage is small for major companies. But it is fun just to walk into the theater, and I think it is an asset for the company. The dancer Tamila, who performed Tybalt at the performance I saw, says in the program's biographical notes that "[his] favorite choreographer is George Balanchine and he enjoys performing at the Fox theater." This made me smile for obvious reasons, but also because I myself enjoy just going to the Fox theater. Since I mentioned the Masonic connection New Yorkers may be picturing something along the lines of City Center...but you would have to picture City Center with far more elaborate and detailed Moorish decor everywhere you look plus an artificial starlit sky, Egyptian motifs in the ladies lounge, a live organ playing when the theater first opens, and popcorn at intermission (among other things). Perhaps now some of you are just picturing something you would not approve of, but I find it just the right mix of enchanting and goofy.

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Drew, a belated thank-you for this. Sometimes one posts chiefly for one's own edification. :wink: The Fox sounds divine, and the company sounds promising (the live music is a very encouraging sign, IMO).

I think a relatively youthful Lady Capulet makes sense -- if she was married as young as her daughter, she could be only thirty or thereabouts. As for being in love with Tybalt, that's a pet peeve of mine -- it takes the ballet on a completely irrelevant side path at a bad time -- but you can't eliminate it without cutting the score, Prokofiev doesn't give the choreographer much choice at that point.

And I don't think "he really dances" is an absurd thing to say, at all. We all know exactly what you mean. :)

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