American Ballet Theatre

Guggenheim Museum Works in Progress Series: 'A Rose by Any Other Name...'

by Kate Snedeker

April 27-28, 2003 -- Peter B. Lewis Theater, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY

Combining the talents of ABT dancers and third year acting students from the Juilliard School, A Rose by Any Other Name... , was a stirring finale to the 2003 American Ballet Theatre-Guggenheim Museum’s Works in Progress series. An inspired idea, the integration of the play and ballet versions of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet provided a rare opportunity to see how both art forms bring Shakespeare’s words to life, one in the spoken word, the other in gesture and dance.

Aric Martin’s reading of the famous prologue set the mood for the evening, which continued with Kevin O’Connell, Michael Simpson and Ben Davis’s interpretation of Act One, Scene Four, in which Romeo tells Benvolio and Mercutio about his dream, a dream that hints at the tragic love to come. The acted scene was immediately followed by Macmillan's balletic interpretation, danced by David Hallberg, making his “debut” as Romeo, and Herman Cornejo. Despite the small stage, Hallberg and Cornejo were impressive, with Cornejo’s quick changes of direction and airy ballon and Hallberg’s full stretched grand jete into the wings. Julie Kent and Carlos Molina performed an excerpt as Juliet and Paris, followed by a passionate rendition of the the famous balcony scene by Kevin O’Connell and Julie Molly Stuart.

The pace quickened with Ben Davis, Aric Martin and Kevin O’Connell in the fight scene from Act Three, which immediately segued into the choreographed duel between Benvolio and Tybalt, athletically danced by Cornejo and Molina. After a poignant version of the “morning after” scene (Act Three, Scene Five) between Romeo and Juliet, David Hallberg and Julie Kent performed the two death scenes from the ballet. Especially touching was the “pas deux” in which Romeo dances with Juliet’s “unconscious body”, as if he is trying to coax life back into her limp body.

Having the dance and acting side by side not only brought new facets and a fuller understanding to both interpretations, but also provided a fascinating opportunity to see and hear the interaction between the young dancers and actors. About the same age (in fact, the Romeos were both twenty), these young people represent the best of two professions, though the dancers have already succeeded professionally. All were clearly intrigued to see a different version of something so familiar to them, with both dancers and actors peeking out of the wings to watch their counterparts perform...perhaps to find something that they could bring into their interpretation of the role. In this sense, it appeared that the performers got as much out of the performance as the audience.

When queried by moderator and ABT principal dancer, Guillaume Graffin, dancers and actors alike professed admiration for their counterparts. All the dancers mentioned having read the book (in the case of Molina and Cornejo, in Spanish) as a part of preparing for their roles. Though all the performers talked about getting into their roles, and finding the right mindset, for the dancers it was often confusing in the beginning. Unlike the actors who learned the roles by delving into the meaning of the text, the dancers learned their roles as a series of steps in a studio, isolated from their context in the story. It’s not until the full scenes are rehearsed, that the steps come together to form a story, and the parts could be fully fleshed out. The actors seemed especially impressed by the ballet duel scene, and the dancers impressed by the actors’ ability to perform Shakespeare’s tricky, tongue-twisting text. Both Molina and Kent talked about their enjoyment of the acting required, and the chance to explore a character in dance.

Graffin and others touched upon the relevance of the major themes-division and the attempt to bridge them- of Romeo and Juliet to current events.

A truly timeless story, Romeo and Juliet will be performed by American Ballet Theatre at the Met, June 6-11. The students from the Juilliard School can be seen in their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Juilliard Theatre, May 13-14 and 17-18.

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