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New York City Ballet

'Romeo + Juliet'

by Colleen Boresta

February 19, 2012 (m)-- David Koch Theatre, New York, NY

After ‘The Nutcracker’, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is probably the most choreographed ballet of the last 50 years. New York City Ballet’s production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ premiered in 2007. The work is choreographed by Peter Martins to the music of Sergei Prokofiev. As he did with ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ back in the 1990s, Martins has streamlined ‘Romeo and Juliet’ so that the usual three hour ballet with two intermissions is now a two and one half hour piece with one intermission.

‘Romeo and Juliet’ is the well-known story of lovers from two warring families (the Capulets and the Montagues) in Verona, Italy during the Renaissance. In Act I Juliet becomes engaged to the nobleman Paris. Romeo is a dreamy young man who spends his days hanging out in the town square with his two friends, Mercutio and Benvolio. The three sneak into a ball given at the Capulet villa. While there Romeo and Juliet meet. It is, naturally, love at first sight.

In Act II Romeo and Juliet are secretly married by Friar Laurence. Not long after the wedding, Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt, heir to the Capulet fortune, kills Romeo’s best friend, Mercutio. In a fit of grief and rage Romeo kills Tybalt and is exiled from Verona.

Before Romeo leaves Verona, he and Juliet spend their first night together as husband and wife. After he departs, Lord and Lady Capulet pressure Juliet to marry Paris. Desperate, she seeks the help of Friar Laurence. He gives her a potion that will make it look like Juliet is dead. Friar Laurence promises to inform Romeo of this plan. Then Romeo can return to Verona and escape with Juliet after her “funeral”.

But Romeo never receives the good friar’s message. Instead he learns of Juliet’s “death”. When Romeo returns to Verona and sees his young wife “lifeless” in her crypt, he kills himself by taking poison. When Juliet awakens and finds Romeo dead, she stabs herself.

Peter Martins’ ‘Romeo and Juliet’ has received mainly mixed reviews from the press. I, however, was totally absorbed by Martins’ ballet. I do agree that the costumes by Per Kirkeby and Kirsten Lund Nielsen are, for the most part, very unattractive. It’s almost as though a contest was held to decide what were the ugliest shades of green, purple, yellow, blue, etc. The scenery, designed by Per Kirkeby, is definitely on the cheap side. When compared to the true to Renaissance Italy’s scenery and costumes of American Ballet Theatre’s ‘Romeo and Juliet”, NYCB versions fall flat.
Costumes and sets aside, Martins’ ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a very valid production. It is certainly different from ABT’s adaptation, but in its own way, equally as good. As already mentioned, NYCB’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a bit shorter than most productions of the work, but I do not feel in any way shortchanged.

I am very impressed by the performances of Robert Fairchild’s Romeo and especially Sterling Hyltin’s Juliet. At Sunday’s matinee Hyltin is by far the best I’ve ever seen her. She is a perfectly natural Juliet full of coltish charm. She is so beautifully innocent that Hyltin becomes Juliet for me. She also knows how to use her body to show Juliet’s development from a fourteen year old child to a young wife who cannot live without her husband.

Robert Fairchild is an ardent young Romeo who clearly shows his love for Juliet with every leap and turn. As well as they dance individually, the real joy is how perfectly complete Hyltin and Fairchild are together. In the balcony pas de deux the couple performs a beautiful circle of flying lifts. Hyltin and Fairchild are in so in sync they bring tears to my eyes.

Daniel Ulbricht is outstanding as the happy go lucky Mercutio. He is an incredible actor and his dancing is beyond spectacular. His leaps have tremendous elevation and his whiplash turns are very exciting. Antonio Carmeno is wonderful as Benvolio, both in his acting and dancing. Gonzolo Garcia is a powerful Tybalt, the leader of the Capulet family. His sword fighting scenes with Daniel Ulbricht’s Mercutio are very authentic.

Darci Kistler is a sweet and loving Lady Capulet. As Lord Capulet, Jock Soto’s take on the role is confusing. For the first half of the ballet he is an ineffective leader of his family, staying mostly in the background. After Tybalt’s death he suddenly becomes a very stern father to Juliet. Soto’s acting, however, is not very convincing. When he “slaps” Juliet, his hand is so far from his daughter’s face that his action seems pointless. Obviously Lord Capulet does not know how to replace Tybalt as head of the family.

I may be in the minority, but I really enjoyed Peter Martins’ ‘Romeo and Juliet’. I hope NYCB continues to perform it for many years to come.

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