American Ballet Theater: "Romeo and Juliet"
Why do opera and ballet companies try to fix what’s not broken? And why do they occasionally display the sense - and restraint - not to?
Here’s a guess: they tear up their best productions when they have too much money.
So maybe we’re fortunate that American Ballet Theater has spent the last few years looking under their proverbial couch pillows for spare change. After all, if they weren’t constantly scrambling for funds, they might have replaced their production of "Romeo and Juliet", which dates to 1985.
Based on what I saw at a performance on Tuesday, I can only say that I hope they stay broke. It would be hard to imagine a better production of this classic than the one they have now, featuring Kenneth MacMillan’s choreography and Nicholas Georgiadis’s sets and costumes.
Most of the attention of the cognoscenti focused on the performance of the ballet this past week that starred Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg. Reportedly, the pair received such a long curtain call at the second intermission that the third act curtain had to be delayed.
Tuesday’s performance instead featured company vets Paloma Herrera and Marcelo Gomes in the title roles. Although they were playing troubled teens, they are, respectively, 36 and 32; ergo some allowance has to be made in terms of their technical skills. These are not greatly diminished by any means, but Gomes did appear to be favoring his left ankle. In consequence, he did not plant his jumps deeply. Nor did either dancer race across the stage as they once did.
Yet their interpretative capacities are as great as ever. Moreover, because the two dancers have worked together for so many years, they have a remarkable naturalness, openness and ease when on stage with one another, and their scenes together were charged.
In addition, they were supported by a phalanx of superb dancers. Prokovieff’s ballet inevitably calls for a virtuosic and flamboyant Mercutio, and it got this in Jared Matthews, who showed off in a succession of big, flashy turns in the air. Matthews has said in interviews that his inspiration as a dancer is Baryshnikov, and this was much in evidence as he whipped about, never missing a jump and always landing smoothly and precisely.
Dazzling, too, was Patrick Ogle’s precision in following his opposites during the ballet’s many intricate swordfights.
MacMillan’s choreography for "Romeo and Juliet" may be his career high. Its naturalism allows all of the characters to be presented as distinct and recognizable people. The production’s handsome sets depict a Renaissance Italian city-state of wonderful if understated specificity. When these are employed with dancers capable of real acting and a superb company behind them, the result is first entrancing and awe-inspiring, then touching.
American Ballet Theater continues its Spring Season through July 7 at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center. For info or tickets, visit ABT’s website.