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American Ballet Theatre - 'Romeo & Juliet'

Starry Afternoon

by Mary Ellen Hunt

June 30, 2004 – Metropolitan Opera House, New York

How wonderful is it when you can walk into a Wednesday matinee on a hot sleepy summer day and be unexpectedly transported by the sheer magic onstage? If I asked in my last review of American Ballet Theatre where the old fashioned star power had gone -- well, apparently it’s gone to Maxim Beloserkovsky and Irina Dvorovenko, the glamorous real-life husband and wife who gave an astonishing performance in “Romeo and Juliet” during ABT’s last week at the Metropolitan Opera House.

Indeed, the entire company performed this production -- which has become for ABT something of a bread and butter show, an old standard that is guaranteed to sell tickets -- with far more care and at a much higher level than they did the previous week’s “Coppelia.”

Structurally speaking, Kenneth MacMillan’s version of the age-old classic works the best in the first act, which has a vibrancy and anticipation that the next two acts lack. This “Romeo and Juliet” is not told as succinctly or dramatically as John Cranko’s, but the overall production is bolstered by Nicholas Georgiadis’s beautiful sets of steep stairs and loggias and towering walls, to say nothing of the dancers who star in it, such as the handsome Beloserkovsky.

It was a treat to see him with companions Jesus Pastor (a serious, slightly contentious Mercutio) and David Hallberg (a princely Benvolio). All three are well-matched, with a comfortable and entirely believable camaraderie. This is a trio of real boys nudging each other, fooling around with loose women and generally cruising the piazza making idle mischief.

As Mercutio, the accomplished Pastor was perhaps more sardonic than clownish. Hallberg, who has all the makings of a major danseur noble, is still young enough to want to push tricks in his turns and jumps, but hopefully a coach will let him know that with his technique and abilities, he won’t need all that to become a star.

It’s almost a pity having Carlos Molina play Paris. As charming and handsome as he is, clearly Dvorovenko’s Juliet was destined for Beloserkovsky’s Romeo. Nevertheless, Molina’s partnering was both deferential and princely in the ballroom pas de deux, making Dvorovenko’s supported jetes look as light and yet intricate as tracery on a Gothic cathedral.

Dvorovenko’s first scene, with her nurse and then with her parents and Paris, was marvelous. Her skimming fleetness of foot mixed with coltish curiosity puts me in mind of the film of Galina Ulanova in the same role. When she runs, she does not so much gallop as fly.

I’m told that opinions on Dvorovenko and Beloserkovsky vary -- although I can’t for the life of me see why. Let’s say this though – in the first act ballroom scene, as their spheres edged closer and closer, my eyes hurt from trying to watch the both of them at the same time. I didn’t want to miss a single one of Dvorovenko’s slowly turning, endlessly mobile enveloppes, but I also couldn’t stand to miss the look on Beloserkovsky’s face when he first glimpses her.

And it only got better from there. From their first glance, there was a palpable sense that that a thread connected their eyes, even across the stage.

It’s of course tempting to ascribe this magic to the fact that they are married, but there is canny skill and experience behind this partnership too. Their duet in the empty ballroom was laudable not only for its lyricism, but also the readability and logic of every move, whether dramatic or balletic.

Dvorovenko’s Juliet is not as willful as, say, Alessandra Ferri’s. Rather she is an effortlessly enchanting and artless slip of a girl.

In the famous balcony scene, her pique jetes were almost inhumanly swift and light. But what left the audience breathless and misty-eyed at the end of act one was not the whirling turns and arabesques -- which were beautiful -- or the exhilarating lifts -- which went moderately well -- but rather the obvious tenderness between them. In Beloserkovsky’s hands, she and, indeed we, knew that she would be utterly cared for.

Small moments throughout the ballet detailed that tenderness, from the way that he stroked her hair as she slept beside him at the beginning of the third act, to the way that he carefully but discreetly arranged the hem of her dress in the scene in the crypt at the end of the ballet. And to say that I was deeply moved by the time we arrived at the final curtain would be a vast understatement.

Swept reluctantly out of the opera house at the end of the matinee, I emerged squinting into the sunlight, still unwilling to relinquish the perfume of Verona to the rush of traffic and the steam heat of the New York sidewalks, and imprinted with the memory of one of those extraordinary, unforgettable performances.

Edited by Lori Ibay

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