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Young Love Returns - NYCB's Romeo + Juliet

by Taylor Gordon
January 15, 2008
Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.
140 West 65th Street
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212.875.5456

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New York City Ballet
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New York State Theater
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www.nycballet.com

www.taylorgordononline.com

Also see Damion Sander's review of Romeo+Juliet
New York City Ballet has a high-class reputation in the dance world, but it is hardly based on their ability to present full-length story ballets. A company created to foster ballets by it's founder, George Balanchine, it has succeeded in preserving his work while expanding its repertoire to include dances by Jerome Robbins, Christopher Wheeldon, newer choreographers, and current Artistic Director Peter Martins.

But to remain as a company of a single style in the 21st century is to guarantee a bored audience, and so it is with great aspiration that Martins created his full-length Romeo + Juliet in 2007 from the bottom up.

A huge undertaking for the company, the ballet received significant hype before premiering on May 1, 2007. Thanks to
a behind the scenes video project
by former corps de ballet dancer Kristin Sloan, the public could follow the creative process of the choreographer, dancers, and production crew on the company's website, diminishing the opacity often associated with ballet.

Another element that brought publicity was Martins' casting choices. With the goal of realistic love in mind, he chose some of the company's youngest talent for the lead title roles, including dancers who were still students at the School of American Ballet at the time.

After the excitement had built up for opening night, the ballet met rather critical reviews. Even still, Martins has brought back the ballet for the Winter 2008 season at New York State Theater and has proven that his company, superior in the Balanchine technique and repertoire, can eloquently tackle a more classical work.

The performance on Tuesday, January 15 was led by Kathryn Morgan and Sean Suozzi in the principal roles. Their youth was refreshing throughout the program, which has been shortened to two acts rather than the typical three for the traditional versions of the ballet.

Both claimed the challenging roles well, but Morgan's acting was particularly effective in the scene where she refuses to be with her suitor, Paris, much to her parents' dismay. Dashing from Lady Capulet (Darci Kistler) to Lord Capulet (Jock Soto) in an upset, her panic unleashed sympathy. Her passion was genuine and was matched by Kistler's heartfelt role as her mother.

If one aspect of the ballet could be altered it would be the costumes. They were all reminiscent of the time period, but the empire waists on most of the women's dresses were unflattering, and the colors in many of the ensemble scenes clashed horribly. The moments when the corps de ballet were dressed in all red or all green, symbolizing their loyalty with either the Capulets or the Montagues, were fine. It was the remaining parts, such as the ball scene, where the color scheme did not complement the story. Some of the costumes were dark and unattractive, while the main characters of Mercutio (Andrew Veyette), Benvolio (Austin Laurent), and others wore much brighter colors. They did stand out in the mix, which was perhaps the intention, but the overall image was of disharmony.

Prokofiev's score is what truly makes the ballet. Balanchine is credited as once saying that the audience should "see the music and hear the dance," and this notion is strongest with Romeo + Juliet's music. On Tuesday, in a pre-performance reception for Society in C, NYCB's young patron group, principal dancer Daniel Ulbricht spoke about how well the music goes with the action onstage. "I would hope that if you read the play [Romeo + Juliet] and listened to the music that it would go together," said Ulbricht, and it certainly does with the ballet.

At the reception he was joined by other dancers from a separate cast of the ballet, who spoke with patrons about their roles and the preparations for the ballet beginning in the fall of 2006. Ulbricht mentioned the challenges of creating a role and of working out the fight scenes during which the men use fencing techniques. "We have a fencing call before each performance," he explained, "in case anyone gets poked or hurt."

It is clear that an extraordinary amount of work went into Martins' Romeo + Juliet, and it was worth bringing back this season. Hopefully some of the kinks that have been criticized will be worked out before it returns to the repertoire again.
Kathryn Morgan as Juliet in Peter Martins' Romeo + Juliet

Kathryn Morgan as Juliet in Peter Martins' Romeo + Juliet

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik

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