"Romeo + Juliet "
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, NY
May 3, 2007

by Susan Reiter
copyright © 2007 by Susan Reiter

The dewy rapture between the young lovers was somewhat muted when a new cast took over following “Romeo + Juliet”’s gala premiere festivities, but the fight scenes boiled over with considerable verismo hostility and vengeance. Along with a chance to consider a new cast in all the lead roles (the pivotal character parts were assumed by the same senior dancers as on opening night), a second viewing confirmed the production’s dramatic meekness and frequent misguided touches.

Tiler Peck and Sean Suozzi, in the title roles, made a convincingly Italian-looking pair, but did not attain the poetic heights that the first cast managed to convey. Peck, a technical sparkplug who has often been cast in roles that showcase her dynamic virtuosity, had revealed a softer side in Christopher Wheeldon’s “Carousel: A Dance” last season. As Juliet, she further explored subtleties of phrasing and dramatic subtleties in an intelligently shaded performance. We saw a trusting, eager young girl, one with a mind of her own and a capacity to stand up for herself, yet one clearly not ready for the onrushing consequences of following where her passions led her. At this initial attempt at the character, Peck still had a veneer of reserve, as compared with Hyltin’s heedless plunge into her date. The scenes in the final act, which require more acting than dancing of Juliet, had a muted impact, although the determination with which she took her potion, and her shock and horror when she awoke to find the plan had backfired, were conveyed with fervent expression.

Suozzi exudes a street-smart, edgy feistiness and has been particularly at home in contemporary choreography. By temperament, he may be more of a Mercutio, since Romeo’s dreamy, head-in-the-clouds lovestruck boyishness comes less naturally to him. After Robert Fairchild’s intensely poetic interpretation of the role, Suozzi’s sharper attack, and less pure classical line, took some getting used to. But his dramatic intensity throughout the evening was vivid and persuasive.

Martins’ duets for the pair do not progress through the stages of their relationship with as much subtlety and dramatic detail as those in the familiar Macmillan version. Their first tentative, excited encounter during the ball is skillfully designed — although it is made awkward by there being no sense that they have escaped form the main ballroom. Here, they are right in the midst of the action, only everyone has conveniently exited or gone off to the side and turned their back in small clusters. In the balcony scene, Martins’ invention seems taxed by having to fill out all the music. They plunge into big, wheeling lifts right at the start so the trajectory of passion does not intensify gradually, and some of the maneuvers are tricky to the point of awkwardness. Peck and Suozzi brought persuasive commitment to the scene, but not the spontaneity that can make it more vivid and emotionally potent.

Andrew Veyette was a less of a boyish prankster as Mercutio, but summoned the requisite hotheaded intensity in confronting Tybalt, with whom he and Benvolio (in a somewhat unlikely two-on-one struggle) are at odds right from the first scene. He virtuosic solo in the ballroom scene (which seems to come out of nowhere here, rather than having a dramatic purpose as in Macmillan’s production) was not as witty and playful as when Daniel Ulbricht capered through it, but Veyette brought his own dashing flair to the demanding choreography. In general, he, Suozzi and Austin Laurent (as Benvolio) were a shade less precise and scintillating in their showcase sequences of purely technical dancing than the opening night trio.

Amar Ramasar glowered appropriately as Tybalt, and managed to maintain his dignity despite the lemon-yellow costume with which he is saddled throughout the ballet. His forceful presence and convincingly not-headed reactions were just what the role, in Martins’ rather one-note conception, calls for. Adrien Danchig-Waring was a rather fatuous Paris, but then he too does not have much material to work with. He dutifully appears whenever the Capulet parents summon him — and must somehow appear to not find anything inappropriate about being ushered into Juliet’s bedroom while she is wearing only the skimpy babydoll nightie in which she just slept.

Given the distinctive and widespread ad campaign for “R+J” all over town — not to mention a specific website, — it would seem this production is likely attracting the much sought-after “new audiences” that companies crave and require. These ticket buyers are coming to the production with different expectations than those of us with many ballet versions of Shakespeare’s tragedy in our memories and the inevitable comparisons we draw from that experience. But certainly they must come expecting more grandeur and texture than Martins’ serviceable and ugly production provides. There is little sense of pomp or occasion in the dutiful ballroom scene, and the chance for Juliet to make a riveting entrance, all aglow at arriving at her first ball as a young woman, is lost by having her appear (and even encounter Romeo!) during the arrival scene rather than at the ball itself. And the Veronese street scenes are a bit too refined and formulaic — all-Montagues in one, all-Capulets in another — with crisp, sprightly dances but little sense of an actual milieu in which life-and-death events are unfolding.

Repeated simplistic gestures — generically raised arms, childish pushing and shoving when tempers are raised — create unintentionally silly moments that halt the tragic momentum. And missed opportunities to deepen characterizations or situations — for instance, nothing about the Capulet household acknowledges that they are in mourning after the death of their kinsman Tybalt; and Juliet on her balcony (which is actually an expansive rooftop) conveys no sense of watchfulness or worry about sneaking out late at night and the possibility of being caught — result in by-the-numbers obligatory scenes that provide the basic outline of what the tale requires, but nothing more. At least at this performance, the impetuous fervor and vibrancy which Suozzi, Veyette, Ramasar and the male ensemble brought to the fight sequences raised the level of excitement and brought at least one type of passion to a production that could use a lot more of it.

Photo of Tiler Peck and Sean Suozzi by Paul Kolnik.

Volume 5, No. 18
May 7, 2007

copyright ©2007 by Susan Reiter


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