American Ballet Theatre

'Romeo and Juliet'

by Kate Snedeker

May 29, 2003 -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York

Kenneth MacMillan's 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 else.

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 are discovered.

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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