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New York City Ballet

'Romeo + Juliet'

by Elizabeth McPherson

May 10, 2007 -- New York State Theatre, NYC

New York City Ballet presented Peter Martin’s “Romeo + Juliet” for a limited two week run. The cast of dancers poured themselves heart and soul into their roles, dancing with a dramatic intensity that is not always on display at New York City Ballet. In earlier years, the company brought in choreographers such as Antony Tudor and Frederick Ashton to choreograph or restage works that would give the dancers opportunities to explore and expand their emotional capabilities. Martins has taken on the task of providing his dancers with such opportunities today.

Tiler Peck, playing Juliet, drew one’s attention each moment she was on stage with a charismatic stage presence as well as great depth of character portrayal in her role. Her arabesque alone made one swoon at the sheer beauty. Peck expertly expressed youthful girlishness, falling in love, breaking away from her parents, and ultimately choosing death over life.

Sean Suozzi, playing Romeo, equally matched Peck’s dramatic quality. One felt his restless energy, his complete devotion to Juliet, his wish not to fight, and his depthless anger as he assaulted Tybalt (Amar Ramasar) after Tybalt had killed Mercutio (Andrew Veyette) -- he looked as if he might decapitate him. His emotions were all in the superlative as is characteristic of a teenager.

Suozzi, Veyette and Austin Laurent (Benvolio) worked well together, a trio of buddies hanging out, testing limits, and getting into dire straits. The choreography for the three played on the likenesses and differences of each individual as they danced in unison, canon, and alone.

Martins has directed his dancers with an understanding of what it feels like to be a teenager and in transferring these emotions to the stage made the plot utterly understandable. For these teenagers, every moment is all or nothing. The intensity harkened back to “West Side Story,” paying tribute to another major contributor to New York City Ballet -- Jerome Robbins.

There was a simplicity to the choreography, which at times was effective. The Polonaise type step that was a repeated motif for the Capulet parents (Darci Kistler and Jock Soto) was quite successful in projecting the stateliness of an upper class family. The dancers alternated fifth en haut arms as they progressed forward in a zig-zag pattern. When Juliet joined in with her parents to perform the step, one sensed her acquiescence to them and to society’s expectations of her.

However, Martins’ simplicity in choreography at other times felt lacking. The pas de deux between Juliet and Paris (Adrian Danchig-Waring) with its unusual promenades was so compelling in terms of steps that one felt let down that it did not connect with Sergei Prokofiev’s densely textured score in a more complex manner.

The several pas de deux between Romeo and Juliet likewise were flat. During the ballroom scene, Suozzi and Peck danced together in the center of the stage as all the other guests pretended not to notice them. Somehow, they started off immediately as if they knew each other, instead of that tentativeness of meeting and discovering. Their pas de deux in the balcony scene harkened back to the days in which the male role was simply to haul the female ballerina around the stage. Lifting Juliet was Romeo’s primary role, which negated the equality of a truly loving relationship. While Juliet soared on high in rapturous glory, Romeo was mostly hidden underneath her skirt. The lifts often required quite visible preparations.

The set was a fascinating contraption, designed by Per Kirkeby. One piece served as the center of 90% of the action. It folded, shifted, pulled parts in and out--marvelously versatile with a sense of ageless architectural glory like the Colosseum or the Parthenon.

The costumes, designed by Per Kirkeby and Kirsten Lund Nielsen, although vibrant, lacked a sumptuousness to help create the period feeling. Tybalt’s bright yellow attire was downright gaudy, differing radically from the other dancers. Dena Abergel, who played Juliet’s nurse with a fair amount of humor, would have been aided in her portrayal by some padding and make-up to make her appear more matronly.

The New York City Ballet Orchestra, conducted by David Briskin, outdid themselves, carrying the various emotions equally with the dance, if not more forcefully.

It is a significant creative challenge to have one’s work stand side by side and be compared with Balanchine’s. However, “Romeo and Juliet” brought up in this viewer something that Balanchine’s choreography has not yet done. I felt some of the butterflies of love in the pit of my stomach during crucial points of the action. Bringing forth remembered emotions is a worthy goal of art, and this production, with its emphasis on dramatic intensity (despite some downfalls), achieved just that.

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