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American Ballet Theatre

'Romeo and Juliet'

by Kate Snedeker

June 10, 2003 8pm and June 11, 2003 2pm and 8pm-- Metropolitan Opera House, New York

Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, a story of love and tragedy, was originally choreographed on the young and vibrant Lynn Seymour and Christopher Gable, but was first performed by the Rudolf Nureyev and the much older Margot Fonteyn. In the nearly forty years since that first performance, the roles have been taken on by an astonishing variety of dancers, ranging in age, nationality and temperament. In the final three performances of Romeo and Juliet of the American Ballet Theatre’s 2003 MET Season, the title roles were danced by three different sets of principals, with varying success.

On Tuesday night, the husband and wife team of Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Belotserkovsky led a youthful and poignant cast. Dvorovenko and Belotserkovsky, who made their combined debut in the title roles earlier in the year, brought a new tenderness and gentleness to Romeo and Juliet, clearly drawing from both an understanding of the characters as well as the emotions they share off the stage. Belotserkovsky, with his long, elegant lines was a surprisingly amusing Romeo, applying just the right comic touch in his pursuit of Rosaline and in the teasing of the Nurse. Romeo’s youthful and impetuous nature was well conveyed in his solid technique, especially the high, elegant leaps and nicely controlled pirouettes. Dvorovenko was an enjoyably giddy young Juliet, her long limbs bouncing and swooping in joy. As the ballet progressed through the balcony and bedroom scenes, Juliet’s new maturity emerged in the grace and control Dvorovenko brought to her long limbs. Their balcony scene was one of gentle passion, new facets of a deep love illustrated in each soaring lift and entangled embrace.

In contrast, sheer power and passion defined the performances of Angel Corella and Xiomara Reyes on Wednesday afternoon. The youngest of American Ballet Theatre’s Romeos, Corella used every inch of his body and the full range of his stunning technique to create a stunningly passionate performance. His Romeo was a bit of a rascal in his pursuit of Rosaline, aided in his antics by the delightful duo of Carlos Lopez and Herman Cornejo as Benvolio and Mercutio. Buoyed by the good-natured competition, Corella rose to great heights in his dancing. In the balcony scene, the powerful passion was illustrated in soaring leaps and increasingly fast jumps and spins, the power of his dancing increasing with the soaring passion. Yet, he tempered this physical power with emotional power, adding tenderness to the bedroom scene by pausing for a long look at the sleeping Juliet before attempting to slip out unnoticed. As his Juliet, Xiomara Reyes equaled Corella in sparkling technique and youthful approach. She handled the transition from the innocent, childlike Juliet to the woman-deeply-in-love smoothly, deepening her line and passion to match Corella’s performance. The ease in their partnership was most obvious in their highly passionate and kinetic tomb pas de deux, with Corella’s dramatic handling of Reyes' limp body and the truly anguished expression on his face making it the most emotional of the three performances. Their powerful connection was beautifully illustrated in the wedding scene. When the Nurse tried to gently tug her away from from him, Corella snapped Reyes back into his arms as if joined by elastic, almost electric in the jolt. This was clearly a bond no earthly being or force could break

In the final performance, Diana Vishneva, a guest principal from the Kirov Ballet, and Vladimir Malakhov lacked the emotional commitment that the ballet demands. An attractive dancer with a wonderfully flexible back and polished technique, Vishneva was convincing as Juliet, but a Juliet alone does not make the ballet work. Malakhov, a dancer bestowed with exemplary classical technique and stunning line, on this occasion did not have the presence nor the energy to carry Romeo through the full three hours. Strong in the beginning, he was a fun-loving, if not entirely youthful Romeo, who impressed in his dancing with David Hallberg as Benvolio and Joaquin De Luz as Mercutio. However, Vishneva, who was several inches taller on pointe, seemed to overwhelm him in the pas de deux sections, and his wild, almost offhand sword fighting in the second act seemed to reveal his flagging energy. By the last scene he appeared drained, unable to lift and toss Vishneva’s limp body, the obvious effort detracting from the emotional energy of the scene. Now the artistic director of a ballet company in Germany, it seems that this bi-continental existence is not allowing Malakhov the time and energy needed to perform at his peak. One hopes that he will find a comfortable and rewarding balance between the two demands.

While the characters of Romeo and Juliet are central to the power of the ballet, convincing and engaging performances in the roles of Mercutio and Benvolio are vital in creating an attachment and emotional investment in the story, a connection that makes the unfolding tragedy all the more poignant. Of the three casts, the trio of Corella, Herman Cornejo as Mercutio and Carlos Lopez as Benvolio were the most powerful. Wonderfully well matched technically and physically, this trio had an engaging and natural rapport, very much believable as rascally young men out looking for a good time (and good women, no doubt). Their antics with the nurse were wonderfully well-timed, and their interaction had a delightfully spur of the moment feel, giving the impression of a unique story unfolding in front of one’s eyes. Cornejo, though slight of figure, seemed to evade gravity with his huge, but well controlled jetes and jumps, and was refreshingly natural in his extended death scene. His Mandolin Dance solo was truly astounding. Joaquin De Luz, on both evenings, gave much more depth to his Mercutio, dramatic in his death scene and fiercely powerful in the Mandolin Dance, despite a scary slip on Tuesday night. Carlos Lopez was a goofier, fun loving Benvolio, while Sascha Radetsky on Tuesday evening was more brash in manner and powerful in dancing. David Hallberg, showing off his gorgeous technique, was a youthful but believable Benvolio, giving a hint of his promising future (he’s just 20).

As both Tybalt and Lord Capulet, Ethan Brown demonstrated the power of fabulous character dancing. His glowering, aggressive Tybalt had great depth and emotional power, in contrast to Gennadi Saveliev’s equally grim but very two-dimensional performance. As Paris in both performances Wednesday, Carlos Molina was refreshing in his gentle demeanor and attention to the little details. A long, lean dancer, Molina was mismatched height-wise in his duet with Xiomara Reyes, but yet was smooth and attentive in his partnering. One could feel some sympathy for this Paris while Gennadi Saveliev’s bland Paris evoked little emotion. Excellent performances in character roles also came from Susan Jones as the Nurse and both Brian Reeder and Frederic Franklin as the kindly Friar Laurence.

The corps was impressive in the grand ballroom scene, but both the Mandolin Dance and the dance of Juliet’s friends lacked cohesion, with obvious problems in timing even in the final performances. The corps has much in the way of talent, but this season it appears that the challenge is combining the talent into a cohesive whole.

David LaMarche conducted an orchestra that had significant and jarring problems in the brass section during the Wednesday matinee performance. On both evenings the orchestra, under Ormsby Wilkins’ baton, sounded better, though the tempo on Tuesday night was at times overly enthusiastic. Both the sets and scenery were designed by Nicholas Georgiadis; the lighting by Thomas Skelton.

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