A Passionate New Pairing
Sir Kenneth MacMillan's "Romeo and Juliet," now in its twentieth year as part of ABT's repertory, has become a familiar—and seemingly ever-popula—staple at the Met. Each year, there is a week of doomed lovers, garish harlots, townspeople and supers in earth tones, and sword fighting in the streets, and clearly there is a loyal audience waiting to welcome back this sprawling, theatrically effective Shakespearean dance drama.
Leading off the parade of six casts was the new pairing of Alessandra Ferri and Angel Corella. Since Julio Bocca announced in 2003 that he was giving his final performances as Romeo, the longstanding Ferri-Bocca partnership in this ballet was over. The image of Ferri as Juliet graced the cover of the Met Playbill, and clearly her adoring fans were eagerly awaiting her two performances in the role —her only appearances this season aside from her "Manon" duet with Bocca at the opening night gala.
It took a while to adjust to the Ferri-Corella combination. He is such an eager, boyish Romeo—true to the actual character, who is after all, a teenager—while she delivers an impassioned, mature performance. It took a while for their two approaches to mesh, but by the time the balcony scene arrived, they were very much the headstrong, rapturous young lovers. It should no longer be surprising what a confident, capable partner Corella is. He is so much the firebrand virtuoso, happily whipping off the multiple pirouettes, that it would seem that partnering would not also be among his strengths. But he carries off his partnering duties extremely well, giving his ballerinas freedom to let go, assured that he will be there for them.
Ferri was less the dewy, tremulous young girl than a creature of deep emotions and passionate intensity. Her articulate, beautifully arched feet are still wonderfully eloquent instruments, and she brings a naturalness and believability to the MacMillan narrative-dramatic works, in which we first saw her 21 years ago. In the ballroom, she seemed almost mournful, as she came down the central staircase and danced her solo, like someone sentenced to a fate she had no hope of escaping. Gennadi Saveliev was perfectly dutiful, elegant, ardent and stolid Paris, as she faced him at the party knowing she was supposed to act a certain way that went against everything inside her.
The arc of MacMillan's duets for the central couple evolves nicely, from the tentative approaches as they steal away from the crowd during the ball, thrilled just to make contact with their hands, to the passionate abandon of the balcony scene, to the fate-tinged longing and clinging of the bedroom duet before Romeo must steal away. That last one teeters on the edge of the melodramatically silly, as Juliet keeps stretching and twisting and Romeo must grab and grip to hold her in her increasingly desperate writhings. She is then left on her own to hold up the drama of the rest of Act Three, and even with a savvy veteran like Ferri investing all the familial confrontations and moments of quiet resolution with dramatic fervor, things seem to drag as the hour edges towards eleven p.m.
What would shorten and improve the ballet would be less of the busy crowd activity of Act Two's over-extended marketplace scenes that frame the brief and touching wedding ceremony—made all the more powerful on this occasion by Frederic Franklin's dignified, truly reverent Friar Laurence. The townspeople baiting the harlots, the harlots dancing up a storm with Romeo, Mercutio and Tybalt—it all goes on far too long. After all these years, it's futile to question the absurd make-up and eccentric hairdos forced on the poor dancers cast as the harlots—do we really need to see the charming Erica Cornejo done up to resemble Bozo the clown?
ABT's first-string performers in the secondary roles were excellent on this occasion, including Ethan Brown, starting his farewell week with his signature portrayal of a proud, incendiary, take-no-prisoners Tybalt, and a dramatically powerful pair of Capulet parents: Georgina Parkinson, who really knows how to stride across the stage draped in flowing garments, and Victor Barbee, exuding gravitas and fatherly authority. As Mercutio, Herman Cornejo was beyond sensational, and at times the ballet threatened to become Romeo and Mercutio, so much did his every solo sequence inflame the audience. He not only danced with exceptional brio and bravura, retaining pure classical form even in the character-infused caperings of Mercutio, be he also conveyed the close bond between his character and Romeo. He was always there to respond helpfully or protectively for Romeo—guiding him towards Rosaline at the ball, then easing the way when things got sticky after his and Juliet veered into forbidden attraction. This strong connection between them made Corella's powerful, visceral reaction to Mercutio's death, and his spontaneous violent response, completely believable.
Alessandra Ferri as Juliet. Photo: Fabrizio Ferri