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Washington Ballet's Romeo and Juliet

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After the company's spring program (which, on balance, was the best thing I've seen it do in several years), tonight's "Romeo and Juliet" was a disappointment. The company is not used to performing dramatic ballets, is not used to having to act, and it showed. The production itself is a fifth-generation "Romeo and Juliet" with little pieces from here and there, a few original touches (like having the balcony pas de deux danced in slow motion which sounded e-x-c-r-u-c-i-a-t-i-n-g, as the score was dragged out within an inch of its life; Makarova's "White Swan" was on speed compared to this). I think the company would have been better served by obtaining the Cranko version -- another comparatively small-scaled production, but much stronger dramatically. (I am not generally an admirer of the Cranko production, but everything is relative.)

The choreography is very simplistic, but there was enough to show that Michele Jimenez is a beautiful, beautiful dancer. She's tall, with, gorgeous extensions, and she can really MOVE when given the chance. I also admired Jason Hartley as Mercutio. The character is cardboard -- Mercutio as Class Clown -- so he didn't have much to work with, but he tried to give it some depth, and the stage was alive when he was on it.

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Thanks for your comments, Alexandra. I'm going Saturday night with a not-very-discriminating friend, so I hope she will enjoy it. I was happy to read your favorable comments about Jason Hartley as Mercutio. Although he's often been overused (as you know), I agree that he can be very effective in the right roles.

A question for you (or anyone else who knows) -- I was wondering whether Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner were dancing at all, especially after being featured so prominently in the WB promotion for R&J, or whether their ABT commitments created a conflict.

[ 05-11-2001: Message edited by: The Bard's Ballerina ]

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Bard, Amanda and John will not be dancing Romeo and Juliet. There was a conflict I think. You will see Michele and Runqiao on Sat. night :) We have 3 casts, with the Cuban guest artists dancing the Fri. night and Sun. matinee performances, and the Sat. matinee will be Brianne Bland and Jared Nelson. I saw Michele and Runqiao on Wed. night and I thought they were beautiful!

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Well, I went Saturday evening as promised, and enjoyed myself much more than I had expected. I agree with everything Alexandra said, but I'll add some more comments since no one else has.

The production was good, with very nice sets from the Boston Ballet (I especially liked the crypt) and colorful, reasonably-high-quality costumes (although the trains of the noblewomen's party dresses looked like they were made out of the padded stuff that lines the elevators of my office building on moving days).

The choreography and the performances had their high and less high points. Michele Jimenez was gorgeous, but there was absolutely no chemistry between her and Runqiao Du. In their pas de deux, it wasn't Romeo and Juliet dancing; it was the glorious Michele Jimenez and Some Guy Who Has to Lift Her a Lot. And he did have to lift her A LOT. It was nice to see Runqiao Du smile (I didn't know he could), but his dramatic expression seemed limited to smiling and not smiling. Michele's acting was quite credible when she wasn't with Romeo; she obviously detested Paris, faced her fake death with horror, and was extremely moving in the last scene.

Jason Hartley was very effective as Mercutio, although he seemed a little tired at the performance I saw (completely understandable). Septime Webre really builds Mercutio's character and sets up the later confrontation between him and Tybalt by having Mercutio humiliate Tybalt at the Capulet ball. Unfortunately, the audience was so busy watching Mercutio's antics at the ball that Romeo and Juliet's first meeting was totally obscured even though they were in the foreground. Jared Nelson was a very pretty, petulant Tybalt, and the (here) underused Erin Mahoney got to get in a little bit of histrionics as Lady Capulet upon Tybalt's death.

It was a little disconcerting to have some of the harlots also cast as Juliet's friends. The harlots were particularly well-dressed in this production, so they didn't look very much like harlots. The tiny Brianne Bland stood out among them, with her pretty, knowing looks and fabulous grand jetes.

Some dramatic problems: the Prince (Webre made him an "Archduke Cardinal") appeared only in Act I and had no dramatic presence whatsoever and was dressed more like an altar boy than a cardinal; he didn't even show up in the second half to banish Romeo after he kills Tybalt. Also, after the balcony scene, Romeo shows up the next day goofing around in the marketplace, dancing with harlots and acting as if he'd never even heard of Juliet. And the orchestra was only marginally better than awful.

Still, despite the shortcomings, the performance as a whole somehow managed to come together remarkably well and the audience reacted very favorably, giving the dancers a well-deserved standing ovation.

I'd be very interested in hearing from anyone who saw one of the other casts.

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I didn't see the other casts, but three friends who did liked the Carreno cousins very much and agreed with Sarah Kaufman that they made a big difference. I also was told that Thursday night (Carreno night) the applause was very tepid, but weekend audiences were generally very, very enthusiastic.

I've found opinions on this one very polarized, which is always interesting. Two other people I talked to saw it exactly the same way I did, two others enjoyed it. Everyone I've talked to agreed with what's been said here, and in the Post, about the orchestra; I felt about the ballet the way others felt about the orchestra :)

There are at least four other Washingtonians here out of hiding; any of you see it?

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Great sets and costumes with clean dancing and limited acting (save Merc). BUT if I wanted a cliff notes version without any dramatic spacing, I would watch MTV. What a waste of good dancers. I saw the Cubans, nice dancers but no character development nor enough difference between Mercrutio (well danced by jason hartley) and Romeo. Imagine a Romeo who goes around still kissing everyone in sight after the balcony scene....

I could go on about the drama missed (shy Juliet finding she is no longer prepubescent, Romeo and Juliet actually still involved with each other upon awakening in the bedroom, the whole poison bit...). Overall the choreography did not set up a situation, draw the audience into it, and leave time for the dancers to explore it.

The only costume I questioned was the Friar's. It looked more like a biblical woman's outfit.

My earlier comments on the orchestra for the Bach were only reinforced by its rendering of the Prokofiev.

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Just a minor edit, Alexandra...the Carreno's did the Friday night performance (not Thursday), and the Sunday matinee. Michele Jimenez and Runqiao Du did Wed., Thurs., and Sat. nights, and Brianne Bland and Jared Nelson did the Sat. matinee.

I saw all three casts, and enjoyed them all, however, I felt that the Carrenos' had a bit more difficulty with the partnering and lost some of the fluidity in their pas de deux. She was very dramatic, and he was technically very fine, but together they did not work as well as our own two couples. I feel that I am being objective here, however, as you all know I am connected to Washington Ballet, so the possibility of some prejudice does exist :)

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