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American Ballet Theatre

'Sleeping Beauty' and 'Romeo and Juliet'

by Kathy Lee Scott

July 18, 2009 -- Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, California

American Ballet Theatre ended its five-day run on a high note when Paloma Herrera substituted for an injured Gillian Murphy in its "Romeo and Juliet." Danced July 18, 2009, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in the Music Center, Los Angeles, California, the company captivated the audience throughout the three-act show.

Sir Kenneth MacMillan's choreography follows Shakespeare's play, showing Romeo's (David Hallberg) infatuation with Rosaline (Maria Bystrova) and his attempts to garner her favors. They interact in a majestic set by Nicholas Georgiadis, who created three huge stairways on which dancers could pose and dance. Additionally, Georgiadis designed the opulent costumes worn by the dancers: long, velvet dresses on the ladies, embroidered tops on the men.

As was custom during the 1500s, the women hid their hair under flesh-colored wimples, making them appear bald. In a beautiful gown with her hair covered, Rosaline rebuffs Romeo's advances. He is soon distracted by members of the Capulets, a rival Veronan family, who tolerate taunts from the Montague boys. Eventually they engage the others in sword play, which brings the fathers (Vitali Krauchenka, Roman Zhurbin) into the fray.

Bodies fall before the prince of Verona (Clinton Luckett) stops the brawl and orders all throw down their weapons at his feet. Thus the adversarial relationship between the families, and in particular Romeo and Tybalt, is established.

Herrera embodied a young lady still interested in playing with dolls and cuddling with her nurse upon her entrance. She ended portraying a devastated woman, racked with grief at the loss of her husband. From her first run onto stage to her painful crawl across her funeral bed, Herrera shared but commanded the stage.

In the scene when Juliet leans about her parents' plan to wed her to Paris (Grant DeLong), Herrera shows her dismay and panic by pulling her hand from his clasp and bourréeing from him to hide behind her nurse. Later, alone in her bedroom, Juliet realizes she's maturing when she tentatively touches her new curves.

During the ball, Prokofiev's powerful, pulsating melody introduces the Montague family who dance stately tendus and other simple steps, while the music demands strong, dramatic moves. Too bad the aristocrats of that day didn't "let their hair down," even if they'd wanted to. Romeo and his two friends sneak into the party where he interrupts Rosaline's partner, Tybalt, to get her attention.

His persistence thwarted, Romeo comes face-to-face with Juliet, the only lady wearing a thin sheath instead of a velvet gown. Paris drags her from him, but she is attracted to the stranger and keeps glancing at him from across the room. Their destinies are set.

Performance highlights came when Romeo danced for Juliet after their unexpected meeting at a party. He captivated with his smooth turn combination – arabesques, attitudes, fouettés. Each flowed into the next without a noticeable preparation. Then Hallberg leaped with great ballon before coming down a bit heavily.

Their balcony pas de deux showed both dancers' skill. Hallberg poured energy into his leaps, yet cradled Herrera with tenderness. He swept her into a one-arm hold, then caught her in a fish dive. His strength faltered a bit when he lifted her while kneeling. Their culminating kiss was made more entrancing with Herrera's rise to pointe during it. Both parted with extreme reluctance.

Lighting director Thomas Skelton gave the scene shadows except for a red drape backlit behind Juliet, who stood under an overhead spotlight before joining Romeo in the courtyard.

Other noteworthy mention belongs to soloist Craig Salstein, who created a jaunty, arrogant Mercutio. His character continually thumbed his nose at members of the rival Capulet family. Though shorter than Hallberg and Benvolio (Blaine Hoven), Salstein kept up with them during the syncopated pas de trois.

While he performed well overall, Salstein overdid Mercutio's death scene, which lasted too long and ran out of humor after its first resurrection. In contrast both Tybalt and Paris died swiftly.

Though mainly a walking part, Patrick Ogle from the corps brought dark menace to his role of Tybalt. As the nurse, Susan Jones became a concerned caretaker and intermediary for her young mistress. Luciana Paris inhabited the main harlot role with gusto. However, this role and the village scenes seemed manufactured to give corps and soloists more time on stage, while filling up parts of the Prokofiev score.

Supporting the cast, David Lamar conducted the ABT Orchestra with aplomb.

The emotions displayed during the third act silenced the audience. Everyone focused on the dancers through the dramatic climax. At the curtain fall, they stood and applauded an excellent performance by one of America's great dance companies.


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