By Peggy Taylor
Monday night, New Yorkers from 19 to 90 climbed the Lincoln Center stairs, moving past the rushing waters of the Plaza fountain. A young woman in a mini dress and sneakers could be heard saying she couldn’t “wait to see Romeo and Juliet.”
I, too, couldn’t wait to see it. After all, it is one of Shakespeare’s best-known plays; the choreography is by the renowned Sir Kenneth MacMillan, and the music by Sergei Prokofiev, who charmed me during my childhood with Peter and the Wolf and whose piquant dissonances juxtaposed with hummable melodies I always find fascinating.
As I approached the Metropolitan Opera House, I gazed in awe at its soaring arches framed by the vibrant murals (“The Joy of Music” and “The Sources of Music”) by painter Marc Chagall. In the foyer, I beheld the dazzling, starburst chandeliers suspended four stories high and illuminating the white cantilevered staircase.
The Viennese-made chandeliers followed me into the 3,800-seat, burgundy-and-gold auditorium, and, when the ballet was about to begin and the lights dimmed, twelve of them slowly rose to join nine more in the gold, petal-shaped ceiling.
Just as the chandeliers sparkled, so the dancers sparkled on stage. Only superlatives can describe the Juliet of South Korean Hee Seo, who brilliantly captured the fourteen-year-old in all her girlishness, womanliness, joy, defiance, anguish, and pain. Her duets (pas de deux) with both Romeo and her unwanted suitor, Paris, were breathtaking, as she embodied Juliet through the tips of her elongated fingers and danced with extraordinary lyricism, musicality and grace.
Romeo, Brazilian Daniel Camargo, was equally convincing and carried us along in his resolute quest to reunite with his beloved. Seo and Camargo are not only ballet dancers, they are dramatic ballet dancers and tell their stories not only with their steps, but with their whole bodies and hearts.
Mercutio (American Gabe Stone Shayer) was excellent as Romeo’s brash friend whose murder by Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt, sends the story spiralling into tragedy. He was brimming with youthful bravado and technical virtuosity as he staggered dying across the stage. The other roles, Benvolio, the Prince, the Nurse, Lord and Lady Capulet, Lord and Lady Montague, were perfectly filled.
Nothing but praise here for the ensemble numbers (folk dances and the gavotte) which were executed flawlessly, particularly the sword fights and bare-knuckled street brawls which kept me on the edge of my seat. (One misstep and those swords and daggers could have gone flying into the orchestra pit, as did happen once with another ballet company.)
The Capulets’ ballroom was beautifully evoked with a majestic staircase flanked by arched alcoves and candelabra. And the orchestra shone at every turn as Conductor David LaMarche teased out all the kaleidoscopic colors of Prokofiev’s brilliant orchestration.
If you are a first-time ballet goer, Romeo and Juliet is the ballet for you. When the curtain fell, the audience, as well as the orchestra, stood and gave the dancers a long, well-deserved, roaring ovation.
Welcome back, American Ballet Theatre, after your long three-year-absence. We missed you!
Romeo and Juliet runs through Saturday, July 16th, nightly at 7:30 p.m. except Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Matinee performances take place on Wednesday and Saturday at 2:00 p.m.