writers on dancing


Ethan Brown's Retirement

Romeo and Juliet
American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
New York, NY
July 2 & 3, 2004

by David Vaughan
copyright © 2004 by David Vaughan
published July 6, 2004

There are many fine artists in American Ballet Theatre, but that does not mean that the company can well afford to lose a dancer like Ethan Brown, who retired at the end of the season at the Metropolitan Opera House. Brown comes from a dancing family: both his parents, Kelly Brown and Isabel Mirrow, were members of the company, as was his sister, Leslie Browne. Ethan Brown’s farewell performance was first announced as taking place on Friday, July 2, and then postponed until the following evening, July 3. In both, he was to appear as Tybalt in "Romeo and Juliet." (During the week, he also performed the role of Lord Capulet.)

Brown joined ABT as a member of the corps de ballet in 1981, and was promoted to soloist in 1988. He danced in many of Antony Tudor’s ballets: "Dim Lustre," "Jardin aux lilas" (Tudor’s own role of The Man She Must Marry), "Pillar of Fire" (The Man from the House Opposite), "The Leaves Are Fading," and "Offenbach in the Underworld." To name only a few other Ballet Theatre staples, he was the Third Sailor in Jerome Robbins’s "Fancy Free," Pat Garrett in Eugene Loring’s "Billy the Kid," the Head Wrangler in Agnes de Mille’s "Rodeo." He was no slouch in the technique department, either: he was in Mark Morris’s "Drink to me only with thine eyes" (and wouldn’t I love to see that ballet again, with ABT’s current crop of men) and the center man in Frederick Ashton’s Symphonic Variations when ABT first did it, in 1992. That first cast was Cynthia Harvey, Ashley Tuttle, Sandra Brown, Ethan Brown, Parrish Maynard, Wes Chapman, which made Alastair Macaulay ask me if I ever thought I'd see the day when Ballet Theatre danced "Symphonics" better than the Royal.

In recent years, he performed mostly character roles: the best Hilarion I ever saw in "Giselle," an imposing Rajah in "La Bayadère," an endearingly funny Pasha in "Le Corsaire." All these were notable for the detail of their characterization: he could make something of a nothing part like Solor’s Friend in "Bayadère," who, one felt, had a whole biography. (All the same, talking of nothing parts, there was no excuse for giving him that of the Seneschal in the new "Raymonda"—even Brown couldn’t do anything with that.)

He also performed another couple of parts in Ashton ballets: Thomas, the rich (and corpulent) landowner in "La Fille mal gardée," and Demetrius in "The Dream." Fortunately this last is preserved in the recent television performance for “Dance in America.”

His Tybalt, danced, as Jennifer Dunning wrote in The Times, “with unusual humanity,” was a typically detailed characterization, not a two-dimensional bad guy. There isn’t much in the actual choreography to support the notion of an affair between Tybalt and Lady Capulet, at least not until she goes berserk over his dead body, but Brown introduced subtle touches to suggest it. To tell the truth, the Friday evening performance was the greater one, with a superb trio of principals in Ashley Tuttle, Angel Corella, and Herman Cornejo. Not that there was anything wrong with Saturday’s cast: Irina Dvorovenko, Maxim Beloserkovsky, and Jesus Pastor in a notable debut as Mercutio, but Friday was one of those evenings when everyone in the house knew they were seeing something extraordinary. Tuttle didn’t have to act, she was Juliet, and the two men both went well beyond technical display. Needless to say, Ethan Brown was right up there with them.

At the end of the evening on Saturday there was a prolonged and heart-warming ovation for him, clearly coming from every part of the house. Kevin McKenzie brought him a wreath, his mother came on stage to embrace him, the rest of the company paid him homage. Blowing kisses and miming tears, he had to come back several times. He will be much missed.

Photo: Ethan Brown as Tybalt. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.

Originally published:
Volume 2, No. 25
July 6, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by David Vaughan


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last updated on July 6, 2004