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ABT Vs. Kennedy Center Concert Hall

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I had hoped to write about ABT's opening night in DC but I find that the collision between the company and the staging is too overpowering. The Kennedy Center Opera House is under renovation so the plan is to present dance in the Concert Hall. Bad idea for a full-length narrative ballet. How many ways did it defeat the best efforts of Ferri and Boca? Let me count the ways. Most strikes go against KC -- Hamburgers under the heat lamps at McDonalds have kinder lighting. I could read my program easily in the full glare of the lights and I was in Row P. But the greater problem is that this is a hall meant for sound, not for sight. Laura Bush in the rear balcony could hear every toe shoe thwack, I have no doubt. When Georgina Parkinson thrashes her chest and pounds the floor in grief over Tybalt, you fear that the next sound you hear will be her wrist snapping. The stage is cramped and they were practically colliding with one another. Or tripping. Almost everyone tripped, however, costume or not so I'd wonder about that flooring too. Worst of all... with the orchestra arrayed across the back of the stage and no screening, you have dozens of little lamps for each musician plus you have, mid stage, the standing conductor. It's hard to concentrate on Ethan Brown/Tubalt dispatching the valient Joaquin De Luz/Mercutio when there's this fellow in the middle of the scene, his white collar glowing, his little pink hands (he had the best lighting) signaling every downbeat before you saw it performed, and his face when he would frantically glance back to check on the dancers whereabouts. For ABt's share of the blame, why are all the dancers in paste white make-up and turbans that made them look uniformly homely with most of the corps loaded up in billowing brocades like couches on tiptoe. Only the harlots in three identical hideous wigs and Juliet get to have hair. One tiny super where's some overpowering thing on her head that must have been a cabbage in a prior life. Can they reconsider the lighting nad the make-up and let us try to concentrate on the performance not the staging? This is a challenging setting and I[m sure KC isn't happy either but I hope modifications are made in time for those who come later in the week.

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Thanks very much for posting that, Samba. I couldn't get there -- four blocks of unshovelled sidewalks lie between me and Metro, and while I woldn't mind dying for ballet in principle.... I'll echo your hope for things to calm down later in the run. There may well have been rehearsal problems caused by the weather delays.

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I saw last nights performance also, and I must say I was less bothered by the difficulties that performing ballet in the Concert Hall presented. We were celebrating a birthday, and, having spent all day digging out, and barely managing to get out of our neighborhood, we were feeling very thankful indeed for being at KC at all. So, our mood allowed us to see nothing but the good things last nite, the formost of which was Ferri and Bocca. I thought they were beautiful together. And in spite of the crowding, and poor lighting all I could feel was their passion and intensity. Ferri is so delicate yet so powerful! My daughter loved her! This is what ballet is about for me.

I will admit, although I loved the color scheme of the costumes, They were a bit over the top. What were those two wearing on their heads! As you said Samba38 "One tiny super where's some overpowering thing on her head that must have been a cabbage in a prior life."

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ABT can make several modifications if they step on it -- change the make-up, work with the lighting design, and sorry to say, get rid of the supers. There are at least 10 supers roaming and packing the corners of the stage -- including one fellow hauling a pig carcass. Their costumes are bulky (ugly, too) and they have no where to go when the dancers need to move. I know this is a tradition, that the talented young folks and old friends who get these posts have a blast doing this but ABT's obligation is to the audience.

Now, I have to add nice stuff i forgot although I should be slapped silly for forgetting Frederick Franklin as a luminous, frail and riveting friar. What a treat! Ferri was a laser beam of emotions from her huge eyes to her perfect feet. The brunettes all faired best under the lights (and they didn't have horrid headgear) so you could enjoy Ethan Brown's powerful Tybalt, De Luz's fearless Mercutio, and the intriguing promise -- no dancing just promising posture but that's the choreographer -- of the fellow playing the denied suitor, Carlos I-don't-have-my-Program., with a sense of arrogance and menace. Alas, Boca was pretty beige. I've seen him better. His whole performance was in his legs.

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I saw the second performance last night. While the traffic jams that samba mentioned had been cleared up, the other problems remained: cramped, shallow stage, little scenery, harsh lighting, and the absence of the orchestral moat that separates the viewer from the action, which is necessary to maintain the balletic illusion.

But what was worse were the things that couldn't be blamed on performing circumstances. ABT's dancers are given no help with their mime, which is so important to a narrative ballet (which comprise a hefty portion of the company's repertoire). You couldn't tell the difference between the aristocrats and the peasants (except for Gennady Saveliev as Paris, who knew what he was doing), and in the crowd scenes there was nothing going on, no sense of life and activity and humanity.

Xiomara Reyes danced well and in the third act showed sensitivity and imagination in her acting. Unfortunately, however, when she is called upon to act happy, there is the problem of her smile. She has a large mouth and when she smiles, it seems to take over her whole face. Perhaps she could try smiling with her mouth closed; this might give her greater range.

I was disappointed in Angel Corella. His dancing was OK, but his bulky, overdeveloped lower body is at odds with his normal upper body, making him look like a demi-caractère dancer. He didn't characterize Romeo at all — he was romantic, playful, anguished, etc., at the appropriate times, but it never hung together. I didn't know who this Romeo was and why I should care about him. And for all the performances they've done together, Reyes and Corella showed no chemistry at all.

Herman Cornejo, whom I've admired in other roles, was also a big disappointment as Mercutio. He played the character as a punk from the gutter, not as a randy, rip-snorting young aristocrat with wit and imagination. When he finally died, after prolonged death throes, the audience actually applauded, instead of being moved to silence.

It's too bad the company and the Kennedy Center chose to mount this ballet, and in the Concert Hall, for ABT's annual engagment. I would have preferred a good mixed bill in the Eisenhower Theater.

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I'd be interested in other aBT-viewers comments on whether the misdirection of talented men (see earlier thread on the Kaufman story on McKenzie and the pyrotechnic trend) is interfering with character development in roles. Will we have a string of young Romeos who, since this is not a jump/turn/jump role have inadequate dramatic range, while the supporting roles like Mercutio are all turned into grinning tops, regardless of circumstance.

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There's a blurb in today's Woman's Wear Daily about the Bush's attending opening night.

First Lady apparently went backstage during the first intermission and said hello to the dancers.

But she missed Bocca/Ferri's "tragic death scene" because she left after the 2nd intermission.

"The Bushes go to bed after 9 p.m., and it's already 10" said an ABT organizer.


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I LOVED it! :) Now I understand about musicality and all of those indescribable things that make a dancer great. I can't describe what was so special, but I just know that Julie Kent absolutely had it. When she stabed herself I flinched! Gosh it was beautiful. The whole thing was beautiful. We got lost trying to find the Kennedy Center for hours because we left our directions at home, but it was so worth it! I'm so glad I got to see it, live is definetly better than tape!

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I had tickets to the pre-performance lecture by a panel of dancers who have all danced in Romeo and Juliet in the past. It was a nice spread of perspectives from Clinton Luckett (10 years plus with the company) to Craig Salstein (first year with the company). Ashley Tuttle and Joaquin De Luz shared some wonderful insights from their past performances in Romeo and Juliet.

One challenge the dancers shared was the venue of Kennedy Center's Concert Hall. With the orchestra being behind the dancers, they noted a few difficulties in not being able to take visual cues from the conductor and the other way around. With no front curtain, nor wing curtains, nor drops the set for the entire ballet was much more rigid and added some challenges in that respect also. Some of the dancers were also a bit unnerved with how close they actually were to the audience. Being able to see faces and human actions in the audience made it more difficult for some to project out and up.

The panel also took on a few questions at the end of the talk, one of which asked how dedicated ABT was to sticking to Kenneth MacMillan's choreography. They shared that they are very dedicated to keeping it true mentioning that it was carefully chosen who recently set the choreography on the dancers (it had been few years since ABT has performed R&J) and that Mrs. MacMillan still occasionally attends ABT's performances.

I enjoyed the performance. The Verona market place was highlighted by some great corp sword play. At the end of this scene, the company deftly stood around the "dead" during the black out so they could discretely exit. I felt they handled the fact of not having any curtain very well throughout the performance.

Xiomara Reyes debut as Juliet was stunning from beginning to end. She started out convincing me she was a spirited 14 year old sprite and by the end of the performance that she carried the weight of a young lady who had seen to much tragedy for someone her age.

Angel Corella's Romeo was in good form by never disappointing the audience with his sharp chainés and beautiful attitude turns. The pas de trio prior to the Ballroom seemed a bit unbalanced. Herman Cornejo's Mercutio was technically razor sharp throughout the entire performance (so glad they gave the lead in the Mandolin Dance back to Mercutio this run). Sascha Radetsky's first shot at Benvolio was a bit bland. He was technically not as clean as his other 2 Montague buddies and eventually blended into the background.

The balcony pas de deux was lovely but seemed just a hair rushed in a few places. Might this because the orchestra was behind the stage? I did notice conductor David LaMarche paying close attention by looking over his shoulder during the end of Act ll but was too caught up in the dancing to notice during the balcony pas.

Other dancers that stood out in this performance were Erica Cornejo (Harlot) and Misty Copeland (Juliet's Friend). ABT's corp has always impressed me and they did so even more this performance. It is my pleasure to see a corp that works as a corp instead of a group of individuals as I have seen in NYCB.


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