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American Ballet Theatre

'Romeo and Juliet'

by Colleen Boresta

July 10, 2010 -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York

The audience at American Ballet Theatre’s July 10th matinee at the Metropolitan Opera House saw another packed house.  This time ABT was performing a perennial favorite, Kenneth MacMillan’s version of Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.”  “Romeo and Juliet” is a ballet which took a while for me to get into.  There is not a lot of dancing in the usual ballet sense.  Once I accepted, however, that dance can be any type of movement set to music – even sword fighting – I began to really enjoy the ballet.

“Romeo and Juliet” is the well known story of star crossed lovers from two warring families (the Montagues and the Capulets) in Renaissance Verona, Italy.  At the beginning of the ballet, Juliet is engaged to the nobleman Paris, and Romeo is enamored of Rosaline.  When Romeo and his friends, Mercutio and Benvolio, sneak into a ball given at the Capulet villa, Romeo and Juliet meet.  It is, of course, love at first sight.

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

At the beginning of Act III, Romeo leaves Juliet after spending their first night together as husband and wife.  After he goes, Lord and Lady Capulet pressure Juliet to marry Paris.  In desperation, she flees to Friar Laurence, who gives her a potion that will make it appear that Juliet is dead.  The good Friar promises to tell Romeo, who can then return to Verona and escape with Juliet after her “funeral.”  Romeo, however, never receives Friar Laurence’s message.  When he returns to Verona and sees Juliet “lifeless” in her family crypt, Romeo kills himself by drinking a vial of poison.  When Juliet awakens and finds Romeo dead, she stabs herself.

Kenneth MacMillan’s “Romeo and Juliet” is not only the version of this ballet I have seen most often, but also the “Romeo and Juliet” which has the power to touch my soul.  This is especially true when the title characters are lovers in which I can believe.

This is certainly the case with the July 10th matinee.  Bolshoi guest artist, Natalia Osipova, and ABT principal, David Hallberg, are the most natural and realistic young lovers I have ever seen.  Amazingly, this was Osipova’s debut in the role of Juliet.  I’ve read much about Osipova’s incredible technique (July 10th was the first time I saw her dance), but she is also a gifted actress.  Osipova has an incredibly mobile face, which shows Juliet’s every emotion – from joy to love to fear to sorrow.  She also knows how to use her body to show Juliet’s progression from a fourteen year old child to a young wife who cannot live without her husband.  Osipova’s dancing brims with a delicate buoyancy.  Her gorgeous port de bras and nimble footwork is a joy to behold.  Osipova’s body is the perfect vessel for Prokofiev’s gorgeously rhapsodic music.  Her Juliet moved me so deeply that I can’t imagine ever seeing another ballerina in the part.

As Romeo, David Hallberg is clearly Osipova’s equal.  Hallberg, usually the most princely of performers, dances the part with full physical abandon.  (Being David Hallberg, however, his line is always perfect.)  Romeo’s explosive multiple air turns during the balcony scene clearly show his overwhelming love for Juliet.  Hallberg’s acting is as free of restraint as his dancing.  After Tybalt kills Mercutio, Hallberg rushes at him with such ferocity that he almost slips.

As well as Osipova and Hallberg dance separately, the real wonder is how perfectly complete they are together.  During their pas de deux, both move as if they are one.  The sweetness of their passion during the balcony scene is very genuine and unaffected.   For me, Osipova and Hallberg are not just performing “Romeo and Juliet.”  They actually become Romeo and Juliet for that brief three hours at the Metropolitan Opera House.

Jared Matthews has a good handle on the character of the happy go lucky Mercutio, but his dancing is disappointing.  His leaps lack elevation and his turns are devoid of power.  As Benvolio, Blaine Hoven is a revelation.  His technique is dazzling, with commanding jumps and  vigorous turns.  Patrick Ogle’s Tybalt seems more like a thug who delights in slaying Mercutio, than the protector of the Capulet family.  As always, Susan Jones is very warm and funny as Juliet’s nurse.

The June 10th matinee of “Romeo and Juliet” will stay in my mind for a long time.   I hope ABT will continue to perform this Kenneth MacMillan classic for many years to come and that the company also invites Natalia Osipova to perform with ABT for their 2011 season at the Met.

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