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American Ballet Theater

'Romeo and Juliet'

by Colleen Boresta

June 15(m), 2013 -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York, NY

American Ballet Theatre performed Kenneth MacMillan’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ from June 10th to June 15th this year. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a ballet which took quite a few viewings before I could really get into it. There is not much dancing in the usual ballet sense of the word. Once I realized, however, that dance can be any kind of movement set to music or even no movement at all – like Juliet sitting on her bed in Act III – as long as it is set to music, I started to really enjoy ‘Romeo and Juliet’.

‘Romeo and Juliet’ is the familiar story of two young lovers from feuding families (the Montagues and the Capulets) in Renaissance Verona, Italy. At the ballet’s opening Juliet is engaged to the handsome nobleman, Paris, and Romeo is infatuated with Rosaline. Romeo and his friends, Mercutio and Benvolio, sneak into a ball given at the Capulet villa so Romeo can flirt with Rosaline. It is there that Romeo and Juliet meet. It is, of course, love at first sight.

In Act II Romeo and Juliet are secretly wed by Friar Laurence. Soon after the ceremony, Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin and the de facto head of the Capulet family, kills Romeo’s best friend Mercutio.

Maddened with grief, Romeo slays Tybalt and is banished from Verona.

As Act III begins, Romeo attempts to leave Juliet after they have spent their first night together as husband and wife. She stops him momentarily and they a dance a pas de deux full of heartbreak and regret as well as love. After Romeo departs, Lord and Lady Capulet try to force Juliet to marry Paris immediately. In despair, she runs to Friar Laurence for help. The good Friar gives her a potion which will make it seem that Juliet has died. Friar Laurence assures Juliet that he will tell Romeo that Juliet is not really dead. Then Romeo can come back to Verona and escape with Juliet after her “burial”.

Romeo, however, never receives Friar Laurence’s message. When he returns to Verona and sees Juliet “dead” in the Capulet family crypt, Romeo commits suicide by taking poison. Not long after this Juliet awakens and discovers that Romeo is dead. In despair, Juliet stabs herself.

Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is the adaptation of this work I have seen most frequently. It is also the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ which has the ability to touch me most deeply. This is certainly true of the June 15th matinee of this ballet.

On Saturday afternoon Gillian Murphy and Cory Stearns are very natural, unaffected young lovers. Unfortunately, Stearns’ performance is off during Act I. He is usually a very secure partner, but Stearns has obvious problems partnering Murphy during the ballroom pas de deux and at the beginning of the balcony pas de deux. As the balcony scene progresses, however, he finds his groove. Stearns’ solo dancing as well is not up to his usual standard during Act I. At one point he even puts his hand down, looking as though he is trying to avoid a fall. During Acts II and III, though, Stearns is back in form with regard to his dancing, partnering and acting. He is such an innocently realistic Romeo. Especially during Act II of the ballet, Stearns actually becomes the character.

Gillian Murphy has long been a technically gifted dancer, but she has become a superb actress as well. Murphy’s Juliet has a very expressive face and she clearly shows the full range of Juliet’s emotions – from love to fear to sadness. Murphy also uses her body to delineate Juliet’s evolution from a fourteen year old child to a young woman whose love for her husband is all encompassing.

Arron Scott is a phenomenal Mercurtio with regard to both his dancing and his acting. Scott is a happy go lucky Mercutio whose leaps have great elevation and whose turns are dizzyingly exciting. I really think Scott should be promoted to the soloist ranks at ABT. I have never seen Luis Ribagorda before but I am very impressed with his Benvolio.

Roman Zhurbin is a powerfully evil Tybalt who is the real leader of the Capulet family. He seems to believe that it is his duty to rid Verona of the Montague clan and all their supporters. After he kills Mercutio, Zhurbin’s Tybalt shows absolutely no remorse and immediately starts to go after Romeo. His last act before he dies is to reach for his sword.

Victor Barbee is a weak and ineffective Lord Capulet. Kristi Boone is a commandingly haughty Lady Capulet who shows a mother’s grief when her nephew, Tybalt, has been killed by Romeo.

I hope American Ballet Theatre continues to perform Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s beautiful production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ for many years to come.

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