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American Ballet Theatre: Romeo and Juliet 2016

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American Ballet Theatre

Romeo and Juliet 2016
Ballet in Three Acts

At the
Metropolitan Opera House

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Kara Medoff Barnett, Executive Director
Alexei Ratmansky, Artist in Residence
Victor Barbee, Associate Artistic Director
Ballet Masters: Susan Jones, Irina Kolpakova,
Clinton Luckett, Nancy Raffa, Keith Roberts
Ormsby Wilkins, Music Director
Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
James Timm, Director of Marketing and Brand Management
Susie Morgan Taylor, Manager of Press and Online Media

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 23, 2016

(Read More ABT Reviews.)

(See a Conversation with Conductor, David LaMarche, on the Spring 2016 Season Ballet Music.)

Romeo and Juliet (1965, Royal; 1985, ABT):. Choreography by Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Music by Sergei Prokofiev, Scenery and Costumes by Nicholas Georgiadis, Lighting by Thomas Skelton.

This ballet was originally commissioned by Leningrad’s Kirov Ballet in 1934, but then this commission was cancelled. However, after Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet also rejected the music as un-danceable, it was mounted in Czechoslovakia by the Yugoslav National Ballet of Zagreb in 1938. MacMillan’s version was originally performed in 1965 by Nureyev and Fonteyn for the Royal Ballet. (ABT Notes).

Cast on June 22, 2016:

Conductor: David LaMarche, Performed by Alexandre Hammoudi as Romeo, Gillian Murphy as Juliet, Jeffrey Cirio as Mercutio, Thomas Forster as Tybalt, Blaine Hoven as Benvolio, Daniel Mantei as Paris, Roman Zhurbin as Lord Capulet, Devon Teuscher as Lady Capulet, Alexei Agoudine as Prince of Verona, April Giangeruso as Rosaline, Martine Van Hamel as Nurse, Alexei Agoudine as Friar Laurence, Kelley Potter as Lady Montague, Duncan Lyle as Lord Montague, Skylar Brandt, Cassandra Trenary, Catherine Hurlin as Three Harlots, and the Company as Rosaline’s Friend, Juliet’s Friends, Mandolin Dance, and Ballroom Guests and Townspeople.

Cast on June 23, 2016:

Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins, Performed by Herman Cornejo as Romeo, Alessandra Ferri as Juliet, Craig Salstein as Mercutio, Roman Zhurbin as Tybalt, Joseph Gorak as Benvolio, Sterling Baca as Paris, Victor Barbee as Lord Capulet, Stella Abrera as Lady Capulet, Keith Roberts as Prince of Verona, Paulina Waski as Rosaline, Susan Jones as Nurse, Keith Roberts as Friar Laurence, Kathryn Boren as Lady Montague, Marshall Whitely as Lord Montague, Luciana Paris, Christine Shevchenko, Melanie Hamrick as Three Harlots, and the Company as Rosaline’s Friend, Juliet’s Friends, Mandolin Dance, and Ballroom Guests and Townspeople.

Just anticipating the intoxicating Prokofiev score, for weeks leading up to this week’s run of Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet is a ritual in itself, and the conductors and Ballet Theatre Orchestra did not disappoint. But, that impassioned, propulsive, sensuous score is symbiotically connected to the impassioned, propulsive, sensuous choreography, and, for credible connection to succeed, the ballet requires mutual chemistry, dance abandon, daring mid-air leaps, and intense dramatization.

On one of these two nights, on June 23, the leads brought down the house. But, on the 22nd, Gillian Murphy was presented in an almost exact casting mishap as she was the week before, in Swan Lake, then with Cory Stearns. This time, Ms. Murphy, as a mature, seasoned, predictable Juliet, needed, as she did last week, a rarified partner as Romeo to “up her game”. And, as happened last week, she was cast with a Company performer who does not exceed in partnered story ballet roles. Alexandre Hammoudi, who was superb last week as von Rothbart to Ms. Murphy’s Odile, was her Romeo this week, passive, technically awkward, and physically drained immediately. He seemed extremely uneasy throughout. Ms. Murphy needed the dynamism and drama of past partners, like the elusive David Hallberg, who’s been out on injury for years. Her Act I Balcony Scene, renowned for its breathtaking romanticism and rapture, was one-sided, as if Juliet was dancing with a Romeo of her imagination, in the body of Mr. Hammoudi. Chemistry was a non-entity. The Act III Crypt Scene was treacherous, in that Mr. Hammoudi seemed to be tossing a rag doll, sporadically.

Secondary roles on the 23rd were Jeffrey Cirio as Mercutio and Blaine Hoven as Benvolio, both Romeo’s friends. I would have preferred either in the role of Romeo, sometime soon, hopefully next season, with a Corps dancer or Soloist as Juliet. In such pairing we would encapsulate the youthful impulsiveness and fervor of Shakespeare’s teen characters. Mr. Cirio’s death scene by sword, at the hand of Tybalt (a ferocious Thomas Forster), needs some practice, as his death dance and fall seemed too staged, but his Mandolin Dance was delightful. As Rosaline, April Giangeruso was wild and wanton, and, as Three Harlots, Skylar Brandt (underutilized here), Cassandra Trenary, and Catherine Hurlin were engaging. Roman Zhurbin, a natural in theatrical gesture, was a superb Lord Capulet, frustrated with his daughter’s rebelliousness at his choice of marital partner, and Devon Teuscher (underutilized here) as Lady Capulet, was maternally conflicted in angst. Daniel Mantei as Paris was suitably bland as Juliet’s chosen fiancé. Martine Van Hamel was like a good friend, a less maternal Nurse than usual, one who was truly torn on the visits to Friar Laurence, an other-worldly Alexei Agoudine. Duncan Lyle and Kelley Potter were appropriately regal as Lord and Lady Montague, head of the Montagues, and Zhong-Jing Fang stood out as Rosaline’s friend.

One of my favorite MacMillan-choreographed scenes is the Act I Ballroom Scene, with sumptuous brocaded costumes for all the Capulets by Nicholas Georgiadis, who also designed the exquisite balcony for Act I’s final scene and the iconic Capulet family crypt, upon which supernumeraries are known to lie down as the unknown dead, before Romeo arrives for the renowned duo-death scene. The ballroom dance, in synchronized lines of Capulet men, then women, is gripping, as it opens with timpani and pomp, stark bright lights, and an audience mesmerized in the moment. David LaMarche, on the 22nd, and Ormsby Wilkins, on the 23rd, both made the most of the impact of music and motion in both scenes, as the final crypt scene includes Prokofiev’s searing atonal strings, as each, Romeo then Juliet, finds the other lifeless and grabs a potion or a knife, lifting the other in a desperate but futile attempt at revival. The Market Place dances, as well, call for fine-tuned gesture, as the Nurse arrives with Juliet’s letter for Romeo, accepting his marital proposal, after their Balcony Pas de Deux. This scene is filled with extra pulse, retro Italian mandolin-infused musicality, and campy camaraderie between Romeo, the Nurse, Mercutio, and Benvolio. And, predictably fascinating is the Act I scene, outside the Capulet mansion, with the guest arrivals, some carried aloft with four men holding canopied-seat handles. The sense of regality, with the Capulet ensemble extravaganza to follow, gives this casually acted scene import.

But, this season’s Romeo and Juliet, for all who follow and attend New York ballet, was about the return of Alessandra Ferri to the Met Opera stage, nine years to the day, after her Farewell performance in the same ballet in 2007. Onstage with Ms. Ferri were her Nurse from 2007, Susan Jones, now a Ballet Master, and the same 2007 Lord Capulet, Victor Barbee, the soon to depart Associate Artistic Director. She was partnered by Ballet Theatre Principal, Herman Cornejo, her now steady dance partner in dance theater (Chéri, 2013), galas, and dance festivals, who actually danced as Mercutio in her 2007 Farewell. Ms. Ferri, at 53 years old, was somewhat evocative of Margot Fonteyn, whom I saw dance with the more youthful Rudolf Nureyev decades ago. Mr. Cornejo is, similarly, more youthful than Ms. Ferri, and they are now seasoned partners, like Nureyev-Fonteyn, plus chemistry is thick. Ms. Ferri, on the 23rd, didn’t execute daring, large leaps, and fouettés were not requisite in this ballet. What is requisite in Romeo and Juliet is credible chemistry, timing of gazes from afar, theatrical gesture and nuance, sensuous kissing, and languorous (balcony scene) and angst-filled (crypt scene) lifts, plus tortuous tossing, full-body arching, and dramatic stage deaths. This duo was incredible, and the sold-out audience went wild. Ballet and arts world celebrities were buzzing in the aisles at intermissions, and nobody wanted to leave.

Mr. Cornejo is still a Principal in his prime, and this is what’s called “upping her game” for Ms. Ferri. Not only was she primed and prepared for this highly publicized stage return, but the virtuosic Mr. Cornejo threw his boundless theatricality and energy into this role, dashing to and fro, in psychic conflict. The viewers were riveted in Act III, when Romeo awakes in Juliet’s bed, the duo now married by Friar Laurence (Keith Roberts). Romeo had also killed Juliet’s brother, Tybalt (Roman Zhurbin), in revenge for Mercutio (Craig Salstein). That bedroom scene was pure psychodrama, as Juliet’s friends would arrive with florals for her arranged marriage to Paris (Sterling Baca). The crypt scene, on their next encounter, with each lifeless, one after the other finally falling finger-finger, Juliet on the crypt’s slab and Romeo on the floor, stopped one’s breath. Endless floral bouquets and curtain calls followed, just like the “golden days”. Kudos to Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo. .

Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo
in "Romeo and Juliet"
Courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at