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American Ballet Theatre - 'Romeo and Juliet'

The unbearable lightness of Amanda

by Jerry Hochman

June 30, 2004 -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York City

I’ve known Amanda McKerrow for a long time. No, I’ve never met her, but I’ve been privileged to see her dance since she came to New York with The Washington Ballet and performed at Brooklyn College a long, long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away). My wife and I took great pleasure in “discovering” talented dancers before anyone else knew of them (or anyone we knew knew of them), and I spotted this dancer who lit up the stage. “The blonde on the right”, I told my wife. The blonde on the right was Amanda McKerrow. This was before Moscow, before the Today show (yes, I happened to see the interview with Jane Pauley), and before ABT. It’s nice to be right.

Since joining ABT, and enduring what initially appeared to be a longer-than-necessary period of adjustment, Amanda (you know how it is – we ballet regulars always refer to dancers by their first names, even though we may never have met them) has had a distinguished career. I haven’t seen every role she’s danced, but she has never been less than superb in everything I’ve seen her do. She is the ballerina-next-door; the one you can’t help but like (ok, I’d use a stronger word, but children and her husband may be reading this) as well as admire.

Over the years, since moving out of Manhattan, it’s been more and more difficult to see ballet performances. I go, but nowhere near as much as I used to. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to see Amanda dance (or anyone else, for that matter). So, when I saw she was doing Juliet, which I’d not seen her do in many years, I decided to trek into the City. I didn’t know how many more opportunities there’d be.

She didn’t disappoint. On the contrary, her performance last night, to me, was astounding. I’ve been privileged to watch many dancers do MacMillan’s Juliet with the Royal and ABT (and excerpts in the occasional film), and have found little to be critical of in any of them. The choreography grips the audience, and speaks volumes even if the dancer just does the steps. Most Juliets I’ve seen do much more than just the steps. But, even among the best of the best, there are differences. Nuances that make the steps sing, and acting that amplifies the steps. Of course Amanda did the steps -- perfectly, to my non-professional eye. But so much more.

To say that Amanda is no longer what one would consider to be Juliet’s age is not relevant. Yes, if you look through binoculars as I do, you can see more signs of experience in her face. But in every movement of her body, every gesture, every look on her face, she was a young, innocent, headstrong Juliet. From her childlike attempt to get her nurse to take the doll she’d been playing with, so she wouldn’t look like a baby to Paris, to her infatuation with Romeo, to the rapturous balcony scene (ok, ok, I’ve never seen a bad balcony scene), to her battle with her father, to her submission, to her fear of the potion, and to her horror over Romeo’s death, she did it all. My only criticism (and I really had to dig for it) was that her prayer with Friar Laurence (wonderfully and touchingly portrayed by Freddie Franklin) could have been a bit more fervent. But that’s taking nit-picking to a new level.

ABT has always had a stable of great Juliets. Of course there’s Alessandra Ferri, and Makarova, and Cynthia Harvey, and Marianna Tcherkassky and many others. I can’t say that Amanda is better. But it was a wonderful, courageous performance, one that will linger in my memory. And because she’s more than just a top-notch ballerina, she’s also the audience’s friend (you can’t help but like Amanda), the performance was also joyous. At the end, you just want to lift her up to show her how happy she’s made you feel and how proud you are to know her, even vicariously -- which is exactly what Ethan Steifel, her gallant and, in a way, respectful Romeo – did during the curtain calls. He seemed as genuinely happy for her as I and the rest of the audience was.

Of course, Amanda was not the entire performance. Steifel was a perfectly attentive and romantic Romeo. Herman Cornejo brought the house down with his exuberant and astonishingly energetic (and accomplished) turn as Mercutio. And the Capulet parents, Ethan Brown and Erica Fischbach, were real characters with real emotions on display. Lady Capulet’s grief at Tybalt’s death was not just shocking, as it often comes across, but also understandable, which I don’t recall feeling before. And, Carlos Molina’s Tybalt was appropriately nasty. Of the corps, ABT makes identifying corps members, even Juliet’s friends, difficult. They all did well. But, of the ones I could identify, Renata Pavam stood out for her effortless clarity (yes, yes, we’re still “discovering”). Even the orchestra, conducted by David LaMarche, sounded “on.”

All in all, it was a wonderful performance – the only thing missing was a cascade of flowers at the end – has that “tradition” disappeared over time? Next time I see Amanda dance, whenever that is, I’ll be sure to bring some.

Edited by Jeff.

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