ABT’s Romeo and Juliet performances on Thursday and Friday were polar opposites, shining a bright light on what is good at ABT and what is bad. Thursday’s performance with ABT veteran Herman Cornejo and Bolshoi Guest Artist Evgenia Obraztsova was a remarkable performance, one of the best I have seen at ABT in years. On the other hand, Friday’s performance revealed shortcomings in ABT’s reliance on guest artists and lack of depth in the principal ranks; crowd favorite Diana Vishneva withdrew due to illness, replaced by Hee Seo, dancing the role of Juliet for the third time this week.
Thursday’s performance featured Evgenia Obraztsova for the first time in a full-length production in New York. Evgenia joined the Bolshoi in 2012 after dancing at Mariinsky for ten years. Evgenia and Herman were electric from the first time their eyes met, focused like laser beams in the ballroom scene to the dramatic suicides in the Capulet family crypt. Their bond was magical and it looked as if they have been dancing together for years. Evgenia was effective in her portrayal of the evolution of Juliet; in Act 1 Scene 2 she was a young, playful, immature little girl who gasps in amazement when the nurse points out her developing physique. Fast forward to Act III Scene 1. This is a particularly heavy scene as she refused to marry Paris (Grant DeLong). She did a bourrée quickly away from him, much to the displeasure of her parents that threatened to disown her.
Herman portrayed a playful, rebellious young man thoroughly transformed by his love of Juliet. He was in tune with choreographer Kenneth MacMillan’s vision of Romeo as a young man swept off his feet by love, dancing in dizzy exultation. As usual, his dancing was solid and always in character, showcasing his great technique. Although a dramatic ballet, it has a number of technical elements such as a nice double sauté de basque diagonal repeated effortlessly. The balcony scene pas de deux was intense, dramatic, and energetic as the young lovers celebrated their union with reckless abandon. I hope to see the two dance together again. Now that Xiomara Reyes has retired, Herman needs another partner.
Daniil Simkin gave an outstanding performance as Mercutio. He had perfect control on his high leaps and turns in the Mandolin Dance; he came out of turns when he wanted to, with great timing. He was expressive throughout, behaving in a mischievous manner in many segments. He performed a nice bounding jete section in a circle that was unique in manner and style. One of the best Mercutio performances I have seen (for Daniil fans wanting to see curtain call photos of him, his curtain call poses were terrible. It looked like he overdosed on prune juice with bright lights shining in his eyes. He needs to take lessons from Roberto Bolle in proper curtain call mannerisms and facial expressions.) Joseph Gorak as Benvolio and Patrick Ogle as Tybalt were also impressive. Supporting cast members were expressive throughout, teasing out many nuances in the MacMillan choreography. This was an excellent performance from start to finish.
Friday’s performance was a deflating experience, like attending an NBA basketball game expecting to see LeBron James and instead getting…J.R. Smith. I always approach the sign that lists cast changes at the entrance of the Metropolitan Opera House with dread, particularly when I purchased single tickets in March to see a specific star. The sign brought bad news Friday evening: Diana Vishneva was ill and would be replaced by Hee Seo.
I’m sure Hee was not overjoyed with the difficult assignment, stepping in for a dancer with a rabid following on a Friday evening with a packed house, standing room only in the orchestra and seats filled in the sky-high fifth level side partial view section. This was the third time this week she has danced Juliet, not an easy task.
Friday’s events reveal the weakness in ABT’s guest artist practice. Everything is great when things go as planned, as in Thursday evening with Evgenia’s brilliant performance. However, when an injury to a guest artist inevitably happens, disappointment reigns with the limited cast of possible replacements. Natalia Osipova was originally scheduled in Romeo and Juliet Wednesday and Diana Friday; Hee replaced both, much to the chagrin of early ticket purchasers expecting to see the Russian duo.
With Polina Semionova, Natalia, and Diana dropping out of performances, ABT’s reliance on is Hee is substantial. In addition to her Romeo and Juliet, she performed in three La Bayadère performances, two Sleeping Beauty, and is scheduled to do two Swan Lake and two Cinderella performances. I’m not anti-Hee; I think she does good work in some roles as she is trying to find her way as a young Principal Dancer. However, given that she has been the go-to dancer for the past several years whenever anyone is injured, I am getting my fill of her quickly.
Getting past the disappointment of not seeing Diana, I thought Hee did a reasonable job of Juliet although her dramatic side needs work as she is not that expressive. This was particularly apparent after Evgenia’s performance. Macelo Gomes was Romeo and he was his consistent stellar self as he carried the performance.
I look forward to The Royal Ballet next week. Happy to see that they are doing mixed rep from British choreographers rather than Don Quixote. Then on to Swan Lake Saturday for…Hee Seo (replacing Polina Semionova) and Roberto Bolle for the third time in two years.