Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Shakespeare’s Doomed Lovers, Acting and Dancing

Angel Corella and Diana Vishneva in “Romeo and Juliet.”

Photo by: Erin Baiano
Source: New York Times June 20th, 2007
Author: Alastair Macaulay

A glowingly handsome evocation of the Italian Renaissance, Kenneth MacMillan’s “Romeo and Juliet,” created for the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden in 1965, long ago became the standard version of the ballet. It has proved itself a fluent mixture of dance and acting, absorbing in its response to both Shakespeare’s story and Prokofiev’s score.

Returning to it at American Ballet Theater after a few years, I’m struck by a wealth of telling detail I had forgotten. After the Capulets’ ball, for example, we’re again shown the sedan chairs that brought two of the guests; what’s touching is that their bearers are now slumbering on the ground and must be awakened by the household pages.

When Juliet’s parents are urging her to marry Paris, there’s a moment when she finds herself standing near him, and — to a quickly rising scale in the woodwind — her eyes travel up, coolly surveying him from toe to head. Then her eyes turn away, and, rising on point, she briskly travels away from him, before arriving again on flat foot, looking steadfastly in the opposite direction, so economically saying, “No, this is not the right man, and I cannot be his.”

There are important ways in which American Ballet Theater’s account of MacMillan’s production (first acquired in 1985) is fully the equal of the Royal Ballet’s. The Nicholas Georgiadis décor here is better in breadth and depth than the modified (more tour-friendly) version the Royal now uses.

And Ballet Theater’s roster of exceptional male dancers means that Romeo, Mercutio, Benvolio, Tybalt, Paris and Lord Capulet are likely to be impressively performed, as is Friar Laurence when the veteran Frederic Franklin (actually older than the 1965 originator of the role, Ronald Hynd) plays him.

On Monday night Angel Corella (Romeo), Herman Cornejo (Mercutio) and Jared Matthews (Paris) — convincing in their “Three Musketeers” camaraderie, heart-catching in the musical timing of their high spirits — danced and acted so vigorously that the ballet regained its youth. Whether in windblown turns in the balcony scene or skimming, leg-swinging jumps around the piazza, Mr. Corella was enchantingly openhearted. And in Mercutio’s mischievous dance in the ballroom, Mr. Cornejo’s way of leaping up onto the beat or pouncing down upon it made the choreography look newly minted.

To the role of Juliet, Diana Vishneva brought the luminous beauty and singing lyricism of her Kirov training, and MacMillan’s version rewarded her by revealing a naturalism and a fervor she doesn’t have across her repertory. As when her Kirov-trained predecessors Natalia Makarova and Altynai Assylmuratova performed the role, a few “ballerina” mannerisms cling to her, like her exquisite but studied opening of the arms in the bedroom pas de deux. MacMillan’s conception of the role was occasionally blunter than this.

And in at least one detail MacMillan’s dramatization was actually anti-ballerina. In the ballroom Juliet comes down the staircase wearing her beautiful new debutante-white dress, and other choreographers would have made this entrance spectacular, with everyone acknowledging her beauty.

MacMillan did the opposite. Nobody is looking at Juliet, and she runs forward to her parents as if to start saying, “How do you like my dress?” only to realize that they’re preoccupied: she has to approach them a second time before they’re ready to greet her.

This is one of the few aspects in which Ballet Theater’s staging doesn’t do MacMillan justice. (Two others: the role of Lady Capulet is dully played by Veronika Part, and Sascha Radetsky’s stern Tybalt is not skillful enough — few are — to bring off the difficult death scene.)

In other respects this production easily wins this year’s Lincoln Center War of the Romeos. It also bids fair to be the best dance “Romeo” to be seen anywhere in the world.

“Romeo and Juliet” continues through Saturday at the Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center; (212) 362-6000 or

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