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canbelto

NYCB: R+J

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I guess I'll start this off. I went to tonight's performance, starring the newly promoted Sterling Hyltin, Robert Fairchild, Daniel Ulbricht as Mercutio, and Darci Kistler and Jock Soto as the Capulets.

I'd never seen this production before, so I went in with an open mind.

This R+J is hard to like. There's the ugliness of the decor -- the grim Great Wall of China-like single set device that never gave the ballet any sense of time, place, or decor. This was most apparent during the "bed" scene -- Romeo and Juliet were forced to frolic on a tiny block that served as a "bed." Most of the dancers were forced to basically dance on a blank stage, and some of them seemed confused about the blocking. Also, there are weird stage directions and cuts. For instance, during the Capulet party, there's no scene of Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio standing by the doorway of the Capulets and sneaking in. They just sort of saunter onstage mid-party. The charming scene with Juliet playing her mandolin is gone. Romeo and Juliet also never have that scene in the party when they are alone for the first time and fall in love. They seem to flirt in open view of their parents and Tybalt. Also, whoever thought of ending Act 1 with the anti-climactic scene of the Nurse sending a note to Romeo? The ballet works much better ending after the Balcony Scene.

The choreography is better for the men than the women. The crowd scenes in particular become displays for the men of NYCB to show their stuff in a seemingly endless series of pirouettes and entrechats. The key balcony scene has some very awkward lifts, including one where Romeo holds Juliet almost completely parallel to the ground. The climactic kiss was awkward too -- Juliet is sitting on the ground, bending over backwards, and I thought "ouch" rather than "ahh."

The weakest scene is maybe the bedroom scene. Juliet wakes up, looking somewhat bored. Romeo wakes up, and he starts to chase her around and all of a sudden she's the coquettish girl, who resists his advances until they roll into bed and are waken up by the nurse. This makes no dramatic sense whatsoever -- they supposedly just had their wedding night, and now it's time for a painful departure. Where's the passion? The sadness? The desperation? Watch Fonteyn and Nureyev dance this scene to see how it's done.

The "slap" scene is IMO actually the strongest. Up until now Martins' Juliet had been irritatingly childlike, but the "slap" seems to awaken Juliet into maturity. That being said, Darci Kistler plays Lady Capulet like a sympathetic mother, which isn't true to Shakespeare at all.

But ... despite the best efforts of Martins and whoever designed the production, they couldn't kill Romeo and Juliet. For one, the music remains one of ballet's best, most evocative scores. It practically dances itself. Second of all, Sterling Hyltin and Robert Fairchild were a convincing pair of young lovers. Robert Fairchild in particular -- boyishly handsome, he reminded me a bit of Angel Corella. Sterling Hyltin is saddled with choreography that's little more than a lot of leaping and some awkward lifts, but she's more feminine and lyrical than many of the NYCB women. Her Juliet may lack some emotional depth, but it has a youthful energy and sympathy. I'm not sure she's ready to be principal dancer yet.

I remember watching Romeo and Juliet with Ferri a few years ago and at the end of the night the audience was stunned silent. Martins' R+J doesn't have that power. But still, I wouldn't say I wasted my time. It was worth seeing.

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Thanks, canbelto. As I read your comments, it seems to me that "worth seeing" was the dancers rather than the ballet. Am I reading you correctly?

How was attendance?

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Canbelto,

Thank you for your detailed review. Did you see Martins' R+J during its premiere dates? I'm wondering how this season compares.

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I attended the Saturday matinee performance with my Mom. We were both equally moved by Juliet's performance and that was about it. The orchestra was definetly the supporting star during this show. Ulbritch woo-ed the crowd with his athleticism, but as far as adding to the story, it was just another guy jumping around. But his large thunderous applause was much warranted for his display of dance.

I found the corps rather distracting during the ballroom scene. They acted as if it was an updated 21st century version of R+J rather than the time period it was from. Some were playing with their masks or noticably making noises or strange gestures that did not suit their character. Their was however one girl in the corps that knew how to use her eyes during the great waltz music that was rather captivating. Unfortunately I can not place her name.

The fight scenes were, umm, interesting amongst the corps. I saw more goofing off and arm flailing than I would have liked to see. If these are two families at odds end with each other, it was no apparent at all. It looked like school children playing during recess.

Romeo had his moments, but they were not consistent throughout the entire performance. I disagree with your assessment of the balcony scene. I felt this was the strongest and most pure scene of the whole ballet. I did not find anything awkward about it at all. Then again it is a matter of taste.

Soto was... Well let's just say waiving your finger in the air many times rather quickly does not tell me you are mad. Maybe it would work for Fritz in The Nutcracker, but I need more during R+J. Kistler was good. Not much to say about her.

Attendance was great. Very few empty seats. It was a sea of heads judging from my 3rd row seat.

The orchestra really did outshine much of the dancing and the conductor was well received during his bow. I enjoyed watching him conduct without a baton but rather his hands dancing and moving melodically to Prokofiev's score.

I actually enjoyed the simplicity of the sets and costumes. It was like watching the Jets and the Sharks. It was easy to understand who was who and what family they were with. The Sweeney Todd like set made smooth transitions from scene to scene and kept the ballet moving like a film. Again, a matter of taste.

I tried really hard to like this production but only found the music and Juliet to do anything for me. And that was enough in itself.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Dancer of Love

The paucity of posts on this thread says it all, or almost, about the Ballet-Master-in-Chief Peter Martins remake of the Claire Danes/Leonardo Di Caprio film Romeo + Juliet. Yes, the movie even had the red plus:

http://www.amazon.com/William-Shakespeares...9645&sr=1-3

However, there was the lure of last year's chemistry between Erica Pereira and Allen Peiffer that said go see them again. In the interim there had been last month's remarkable Dew Drop, a great choreographic leap forward.

We first meet Juliet in her Chambers with Nurse Gwyneth Muller (a big role in this production, and so fully realized by this dancer). Upon meeting her fiance Erica turns and dances away, not in any fear, she dances a little-girl-skipping, telling us more about Juliet being a pre-teen innocent, and of the evils of forcing children into marriage, than could be told in reams of verse and prose. Every moment we can admire Ms. Pereira's acting, but somehow it doesn't seem ever to come from a script or through artifice. Her extraordinary arms and hands have already been well noted; hinting at Makarova's, that deep connection directly to somewhere in the middle of her back. Erica Pereira's connection may extend a bit inward, to the heart.

So much has already been written last season, including by me, of this dancer's debut; I just looked back at SZ's post on Erica's Juliet. If you missed it, I suggest you check it out. She can tell you more than I can. So I won't go through all the story and how the dancers danced. However, I would say that as the program went along, the corps seemed intensely into it. Having just read NYCB's Kyle Froman's book In the Wings, I understand that the corps is very aware of the principals' performances. QED.

Erica and Allen come upon each other quite naturally at the Ball. As she faces him, she dances a sigh, one of delight, an innocent's surprise. Ms. Pereira can dance a sigh, and one with the just right nuances too. They dance to each other with the warmth and dimension that simply does compare to such recent pairs as Ferri/Bocca and Vishneva/Malakhov: always on, always deep, always right. And that is all the more so in the Balcony Scene. Choregraphic issues aside, they are there, swept along by that powerful score. Here, and everywhere, Erica does seem swept along by the music. It is as if the floor is merely there as a reference point to keep the audience from getting dizzy. She is dancing above, or beyond, it, in the rarefied atmosphere of music. Mr. Peiffer followed up his splendid partnering with a superbly acted letter scene, his infatuation transformed, as if some of his Juliet's airy movement had placed a cushion of lightness beneath his feet.

Plot happens, and on to their awakening in the bedroom. Much has been said of how this scene ignores the complexity of a young bride's sleeping with the murderer of her cousin. When Erica awakes, every bit of it is on her face and in her movement. Not by Shakespeare's word or plot. It was in Prokofiev, and through the magic filter of her heart the music's story passed on to us: this young woman who dances with her heart as well as on her toes. Nothing shallow here, tragedy right from the soul needs no histrionics.

And so it goes and ends. The audience is quite demonstrative. Even three calls after the curtain goes down. There were cheers. You know who was bowing when those came roaring.

I didn't happen to see if her teacher Francis Patrelle was there today, although I did see him at her City Ballet Dew Drop debut. I gather from posts last season that he discovered her nearly a decade ago. Much of her training was at Ballet Academy East. She danced her first Dew Drop for his company (the one that puts on the Yorkville Nutcracker every December). And she's had the chance to dance/learn Odette and Nikiya there, and Balanchine too. There are always those teachers we the public don't know about. They give us such gifts. I want to thank Mr. Patrelle for this gift, this Dancer of Love, Erica Pereira.

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DRB, with all due respect, I beleive that Darla Hoover, another extraordinary teacher, was also very much involved with Erica's training at BAE, and deserves acknowledgement.

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Thanks for the loving review, drb. What of the paternal Capulet slap that reverberated through the pages of the New York Times last year? Has it been toned down at all?

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...What of the paternal Capulet slap that reverberated through the pages of the New York Times last year? Has it been toned down at all?

Actually, Darci's slap of Romeo was a lot louder than Jock's of Juliet. Perhaps cowardly back-stabbing murder is worse a crime than love. Mr. Soto does not look happy with this part of his acting assignment.

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Because a family member is in the cast, I have now seen Peter Martin's R&J numerous times: during last year's initial run, again over the summer in Saratoga, and now this year. I have limited expertise regarding ballet, so my comments should be taken merely as my personal 'gut reaction' and 'emotional response', without much distraction others more expereinced then I may have regarding such things as comparing this choroegraphy to other R&J's, or on comparing current dancers with those of yesteryear or those from other companies. These are just the feelings one novice viewer has had viewing this particular work of art.

First off, the more I have seen the production, the more it has grown on me. This includes the choreography, the sets, the costumes.... I think this says somehting positive as to what Mr. Martins' has created, and might also suggest that over the coming years, this ballet may become more and more popular. Relatedly, I have been amazed by the growth in the performances by each of the young principals. Each dancer portraying Romeo and Juliet seems have continually grown in 'acting" the role. For example, early on I scarcely noticed any evolution in certain of the Romeos as each fell in love, or the transformation in certain Juliets as they blossomed from girl to young women in love. As each dancer became more and more comfortable in the role, and perhaps less distracted by the technicial aspects of doing the steps, these subtleties in emotion have become more and more pronounced. At least that is the sense I got. The most recent performances of each case seem generally to me to be a quantum leap above their initial perfomances.

Second, I have been amazed at how different each pair of Romeos/Juliets has been from the others. Each pair seems to tell a slightly differently nuanced story (of course, I wouldn;t be giving anyhting away to let you know that all end somewhat tragically). In some cases, I am struck by the sheer athleticism of the dancers, other times the grace and beauty. By the final perfomances, I could really feel each pair literally falling in love before my eyes.

The whole experience has been a great eductation for me, and I am now more excited to see other ballets. And each viewing fo R&J has certainly been a treat and its own unique experience. Most importantly perhaps, there are certain 'moments' or images I think will stay with me: Romeo and Juliet's first kiss leaning over Juliet, Romeo carrying Juliet sans hands, arms outstretched (portending the later lift when he tires to revive her under potion, the humorous lifts of the chambermaid, the young street performing boys, the incredible athleticism of jumps by Daniel Ulbricht ad others .... the whole experience is so unlike so many other disposable entertainment experiences (like the movie I saw last night) that I enjoyed for the moment but have already wholly forgotten.

Anyway, those are some thoughts from a new fan of ballet.

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Yes, thank you drb and thank you, too, tiptoe. :)

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Well there many not be many posts on this run but the ones that are up certainly are interesting!

drb, I was also at the Sunday matinee and I completely agree with your wonderful review. I saw 3 casts last season and P&P were the ones who won my heart, and the only ones I went to see this season.

I think I came to terms with the production this time, somewhere around the middle of the first act. The early crowd scenes really irked me, I found the sight of the young ladies of Verona acting like modern teenagers at the mall particularly annoying (there were even 1 or 2 in headbands with their hair long & loose and perfectly straight. Didn't know they had blow dryers in Shakespeare's Verona). It was so incongruous to see them slapping & pulling each others hair, while the men pulled them off each other like street punks. Then it hit me – I think Martins intended them to behave like 21st century teenagers. You and I may know that his concept of the play is too shallow to allow the full degree of complexity & pathos to come through. But framing the action in terms that modern kids can identify with is an idea that may have its own merits. I can just imagine my 16 year old niece identifying with Periera (or Hyltin or Morgan) in a way that she could never identify with Ferri or Makarova. She might admire their performance, would undoubtably be moved by it, but she wouldn't see herself in them as she could with Martin's Juliets. It's a different way of looking at the story. Not my preference, but then I'm not part of his target audience. Alienated youth? Privileged kids whose parents can't understand them, don't have a clue as to their needs? Martins is speaking their language here. Yes, he's simplified the characters & motivations and trivialized it a bit in the process – but he may have also made it accessible to a new generation. There's no denying that the theater was full, and full of young people, lots of whom seemed new to the art form. Let's just hope lots of them come back, and discover the rest of the rep as they grow up.

Tiptoe, it was also great to hear your thoughts - please keep posting! Most of the people who post here have been going to the ballet for years (like me) - it's nice to have a fresh perspective.

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DRB, with all due respect, I beleive that Darla Hoover, another extraordinary teacher, was also very much involved with Erica's training at BAE, and deserves acknowledgement.

Mr. Patrelle, through his company, has the ability to give them opportunities to perform, as well as developing dancers in class, but I agree that it deserves noting that there are and have been many wonderful teachers at Ballet Academy East who've developed a number of dancers there. And it's where Lourdes Lopez cut her teeth administratively.

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DRB, with all due respect, I beleive that Darla Hoover, another extraordinary teacher, was also very much involved with Erica's training at BAE, and deserves acknowledgement.

Mr. Patrelle, through his company, has the ability to give them opportunities to perform, as well as developing dancers in class, but I agree that it deserves noting that there are and have been many wonderful teachers at Ballet Academy East who've developed a number of dancers there. And it's where Lourdes Lopez cut her teeth administratively.

I just wanted to add that Patrelle gives the students of BAE the chance to perform in his annual The Yorkville Nutcracker, but that is pretty much the extent of it. Students have just as many opportunities to perform in BAE's Spring concert, which was originally initiated under Hoover and Lopez's guidance. Nonetheless, while Patrelle "found" Erica, many other faculty members influenced and shaped her training and development.

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DRB, with all due respect, I beleive that Darla Hoover, another extraordinary teacher, was also very much involved with Erica's training at BAE, and deserves acknowledgement.

Mr. Patrelle, through his company, has the ability to give them opportunities to perform, as well as developing dancers in class, but I agree that it deserves noting that there are and have been many wonderful teachers at Ballet Academy East who've developed a number of dancers there. And it's where Lourdes Lopez cut her teeth administratively.

Living in a neighborhood where we can often see Mr. Patrelle's Company, and having had a student at BAE, I know that a rich learning experience is available there: just look at the current faculty list and you'll find many familiar names from the city's big companies, and others with significant credentials too:

http://www.baenyc.com/faculty.asp

Specifically, in Ms. Pereira's case she had the opportunity to learn the role of Nikiya directly from guest teacher Amanda McKerrow, who carries Bayadere's leading role directly from Natasha Makarova (this good fortune for Erica was a featured story in Dance Magazine). As you read the list of star dancers who have worked with Mr. Patrelle you may also get an idea of the quality of dancers that students get an opportunity to perform with. Not knowing Ms. Pereira, I could not make a list of those who taught and those who danced with her. But surely Darla Hoover's one among them.

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This sounds like a lot of congratulations to Prof. Higgins from Col. Pickering and himself, with nary a thought that Miss Doolittle may have had something to do with her own triumph at the palace ball.

Erica, like most of her NYCB colleagues, benefited from excellent teachers, but in the end, she's the one whose talent, in its many aspects, is on display.

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