ABT’s Thursday/Friday/Saturday evening performances of Romeo and Juliet presented ABT at its best as the company showcased international stars in a full-length ballet theater masterpiece.
The Thursday performance was a unique, much-anticipated event, marking the return of 53-year-old Alessandra Ferri, an ABT Principal Dancer 1986 to 2007, in her signature role of Juliet. The Met was packed with standing room only in the third balcony and seats filled in the limited view fourth-tier balcony sides. Dancing at a high level at the age of 53 is a remarkable feat and Alessandra displayed a nice supple back and greatly arched feet. However, those expecting a fountain of youth will be disappointed as she omitted many steps, opting for stripped down solos devoid of many jumps or turns. What her solos lacked in technical prowess and speed, she more than made up in the drama department with a moving portrait of the evolution of Juliet; in Act 1 Scene 2 she was a young, playful, immature little girl who gasped in amazement when the nurse pointed out her developing physique. Fast forward to Act III Scene 1. This was a particularly heavy scene as she refused to marry Paris (Sterling Baca). She bourréed away quickly from him, much to the displeasure of her parents that threatened to disown her.
Herman Cornejo was Romeo. The two danced together in Chéri in 2013 and had a particularly effective bond Thursday. Alessandra 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 as it looked as if they have been dancing together for years. Technically, Herman made up for Alessandra’s limitations, with rapid-fire coupé jeté en manége and a great diagonal of 5-6 effortless double saut de basques. (It was a big week for Alessandra as she was sworn in as a U.S. citizen according to an article by AP News.)
Rorman Zhurbin was outstanding as Tybalt on Thursday and Friday, with a great air of defiance and arrogance. His death scene was dramatic as he leapt out to Romeo with the last ounce of his energy. Craig Salstein was Mercutio; his dramatic sections were nice, particularly in the death scene after he was stabbed by Tybalt. Technically, his dancing was fine but lacked the WOW factor.
I usually don’t pay much attention to Lady Capulet. However, Stella Abrera was outstanding on Thursday and Friday, portraying Juliet’s mother with steely ambition and coolness when dealing with her daughter, with uncontrollable grief after the death of Tybalt, pounding the floor in rhythm to Prokofiev’s ominous score.
Friday featured Hee Seo and the always dependable ageless wonder Roberto Bolle. Roberto was Roberto, very good in technical and dramatic dimensions, a rock-solid partner with great dramatic flair portraying the love-struck Romeo. Her Juliet has improved over last season, demonstrating her maturity as a dancer. Most impressive was newcomer Jeffrey Cirio as Mercutio. His solo in the marketplace was of high intensity with high leaps in second position, followed by three or four slow controlled pirouettes. Earlier in the Met season, his Ali solo in Le Corsaire was impressive. He is a solid addition to the ABT roster, joining from Boston Ballet.
Vishneva/Gomes Saturday Evening
The Saturday evening cast featured Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes. Diana’s Juliet was full of energy and intensity throughout. Marcelo’s technical work was outstanding with high jetés in menage and controlled turns. The dramatic sections featuring the two were impassioned, reaching the point of overkill, a bit overdone for my taste. Thomas Forster was a nasty Tybalt, physically matching the tall Marcelo; their sword fight was full of energy and emotion. Arron Scott was solid as Mercutio.
My favorite of the three evenings was Friday with Bolle/Seo with great supporting cast work from Roman, Stella, and especially Jeff Cirio.
Other ABT Romeo and Juliet reviews:
Kenneth MacMillian’s Romeo and Juliet is a grand production, filled with masterful choreography, with great sets and costumes. The nearly three-hour work moves quickly and seamlessly through 13 scenes. I like the marketplace and ballroom scenes that are filled with nuance. For example, in the marketplace, a beggar with crutches solicits the townspeople as they make fun of him. After fleecing them, he laughs, throws away his crutches, and triumphantly runs away.
MacMillan’s version of Romeo and Juliet was first performed by The Royal Ballet in 1965 and entered ABT’s repertory in 1985. According the Kenneth MacMillian estate website, MacMillan wanted to create his own Romeo and Juliet after seeing John Cranko’s version for the Stuttgart Ballet. The Royal Ballet wanted a new three-act ballet to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare; The Royal Ballet artistic director Frederick Ashton contracted MacMillan to complete the ballet in less than five months for its 1965 American tour. This was MacMillan’s first three-act ballet.
The website says that MacMillan avoided virtuoso steps because he thought they were too conventionally balletic. Only Juliet and her girlfriends are on point and their choreography is contrasted with character dances and crowd scenes. “MacMillan broke the ballet conventions of the time by having the dancing evolve from naturalistic action. Unlike Cranko’s production, there are no picturesque poses for applause at the end of set pieces. Unlike the Bolshoi production, there are no spotlit entrances for the leading characters: Romeo is discovered in semi-darkness at the start of the ballet as Rosaline’s anonymous suitor; Juliet’s arrival at the ball in her honour goes unnoticed at first.” At the end of the ballet, there is no reconciliation of the Montagues and Capulets in the manner that Shakespeare ended his tragedy.
Romeo and Juliet is the signature work of The Royal Ballet’s repertoire. During his lifetime, MacMillan staged the ballet for The Royal Swedish Ballet in 1971, ABT in 1985, and Birmingham Royal Ballet in 1992.