'Romeo and Juliet'
May 29, 2003 -- Metropolitan
Opera House, New York
Romeo and Juliet is an epic ballet lasting more than three hours,
with Prokofiev’s powerful score, a multitude of characters and numerous
scene changes. On Thursday night in American Ballet Theatre’s production,
staged by Julie Lincoln, three powerful performances served to tie all
the theatrical threads together to create one cohesive masterpiece. Julio
Bocca and Alessandra Ferri, as the doomed lovers and Joaquin De Luz as
the ill-fated Mercutio were simply stunning, with Bocca and Ferri bringing
a rare degree of emotional power to the Met stage.
Designed by Nicholas Georgiadis, the sets and costumes in American Ballet
Theatre’s production can be interpreted as a commentary on the themes
in the story of Romeo and Juliet. The set is simple, a series of raised
wooden arches, platforms and stairways depicting both the village and
the house of the Capulets. Juliet’s room is equally uncluttered, with
the small altar reminiscent of the intricately painted backdrop of the
chapel where the lovers are married. Both Capulets and Montagues are outfitted
in elaborate period dress, with an array of tan, red and orange shades
predominating. Though the colors at first glance seem bright, when the
full cast assembles on the stage, nothing stands out. Capulets & Montagues,
harlots and page boys all blend into one mass-perhaps an illustration
of the pettiness of the differences that divide Verona. The only costumes
and sets that stand out are the white dress of the innocent Juliet, the
colors in the chapel paintings and the white lit angels peering down from
the walls of the Capulet family tomb. Even Romeo’s tights are slightly
gray, foretelling his slide into the bitter divide and stabbing of Paris.
It is the chapel and the kind Friar who represent the only attempt at
healing in the divided village, the sweet Juliet who is the only true
innocent and the angels who represent the peace in heaven that could not
be found on earth. It is fitting that they should stand apart from everything
Sergei Prokofiev’s music is a guide through the story, the chosen melody
a clear of indication of who or what is to come-for instance the delicate,
tender music that foretells Juliet’s entrances or the deep, low cello
and base thrumming of trouble and tragedy soon to come. Such strong, driving
music requires even more powerful dancing, and Julio Bocca and Alessandra
Ferri met the music and made it their own. This was one of Bocca’s last
performances as Romeo, and it surely one of Ferri’s final performances
as Juliet. The oldest dancers in the company to take on these roles, Ferri
and Bocca demonstrated that maturity only adds to emotion and power. Bocca’s
Romeo had a zest for life that seemed chipped away by the fighting between
families, but revitalized by his clandestine meetings with Juliet. Yet
he also seemed a little wistful, as if recalling his own memories at the
closing of one chapter in his career. Ferri’s delicate, petite physique
belied her powerful dancing, which was equally as effective whether portraying
the innocent giddiness of the girlish Juliet or the deep anguish of the
final Juliet, her innocence shattered with the sight of the dead Romeo.
Ferri and Bocca’s balcony pas de deux was magnificent, with both dancers
using the shapes in the choreography to bring out the emotion. Bocca,
a spectacular turner and jumper, used fast powerful tours and pirouettes
to illustrate the giddy joy of Romeo, for instance when he finds out that
he will secretly marry Juliet. Yet in the tender balcony scene, he stretched
out and let his limbs curve naturally into the movement. The turns with
leg in attitude derriere were just fabulous, every limb stretching out,
aching for Juliet’s love. Ferri, with gorgeous feet, was elegant, but
passionate, her dancing full of sweeping moves. Their pas de deux was
kinetic, with Bocca sweeping Ferri in his arms, the two dancing in almost
giddy fashion. In the final moments of the balcony pas de deux, Bocca
paused for a few precious moments before kissing Juliet, just waiting
and looking deep into her eyes. The tension was almost visible, the release
when they finally kissed just exquisite. To know when stillness can convey
as much as action is a true sign of a mature dancer.
The bedroom scene
was equally powerful, though it seems odd to have Romeo emerge from the
bedclothes completely clothed. Shakespeare was certainly not bashful about
what had happened in the night, and the pale, off white dress that Juliet
wears from then on is a clear sign that she is no longer completely innocent.
So, why not at least have Romeo putting his shirt back on? In the dancing,
Bocca and Ferri mixed the feeling of joyous, young love with more mature
love. Romeo realizes that however wonderful things are at the moment,
that he must flee back out the window into the real world before they
As Mercutio, Joaquin De Luz put on a stunning display of virtuoso dancing.
In the Mandolin Dance he soared into the air, dancing with immense attack
and precision. He showed off his wonderful flexibility and did a spectacular
series of pirouettes that seemed to keep on rotating forever. His death
scene was nicely acted, with the flip flop of emotions from agony to joy
and back to agony, his final parting gesture blaming both sides. The casting
of De Luz, Bocca and Carlos Lopez, a light-hearted Benvolio, together
was inspired. Very similar in size and appearance and with an easy rapport,
they danced with astonishing synchronization and made for a very believable
trio of friends.
Ethan Brown was a grim and commanding Tybalt, accomplished in his sword-fighting
and nuanced acting. Gennadi Saviliev was bland Paris, though it’s really
a token role that provides little for a dancer work with. Susan Jones
was a good natured and rotund nurse, who obviously cared very much for
Juliet, and was willing to put up with Benvolio, Romeo and Mercutio’s
antics while delivering the letter. It’s a role than can be easily bland
or under-acted, but Jones made the nurse a full-fleshed out character.
Frederic Franklin was dignified in his cameo as Friar Laurence, and Stella
Abrera was a cool, elegant Rosaline. Victor Barbee and Georgina Parkinson
were the Lord and Lady Capulet, Shannon Volk and Clinton Luckett the Lord
and Lady Montague.
The final few scenes are among the most powerful in the ballet. Bocca’s
pas de deux with Ferri’s limp body was touching, but would have been even
more emotional had Bocca relied more on dance and less on acting. His
almost frantic, touching dancing held the real power with Ferri’s body
swaying in his arms, flopping as he bent her over his shoulder, trying
desperately to will life back into her limp body. Compared to the sheer
kinetic energy of their earlier pas de deuxs it seemed tame, at least
in the dancing. Yet, Bocca’s face conveyed the horror and anguish, expressions
soon seen of Ferri’s face when she discovered his body beside her tomb.
Ferri wisely kept her final tortured solo short, ending with her back
acutely arched, her arm intertwined with Bocca’s.
Many dancers have performed the roles, but few can come close to the emotion
and power of Ferri and Bocca. Clearly experiencing life is vital in getting
to the heart of such tragic roles, and it will be interesting to watch
American Ballet Theatre’s younger dancers in Romeo and Juliet
as they mature and experience more of life’s emotions.
Charles Barker conducted, with lighting by Thomas Skelton.
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