ABT got back to serious business last night with its opening performance of Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet. This is one damn fine ballet. Not much can spoil it - not even a crummy violinist who seems to use the first few performances of every ballet as his rehearsals.
Herman Cornejo and Xiomara Reyes were splendid in their title roles. Xiomara's Juliet is always more of a sheltered adolescent than is portrayed by ABT's other ballerinas. Last night her passion, while intense, was also clearly immature, and as that passion increased and gradually became more out of control, it was apparent that Juliet was headed into a downward spiral toward her bad decision. Herman's characterization of Romeo was drawn with equal skill – young, inexperienced in love although he had already felt the pain of Rosaline's rejection. Once he discovered Juliet, there was a little bit of hesitation as though he wasn't quite sure if he was ready to risk failure again. There was no melodrama in these artists' portrayals last evening; it was all very believable.
The PdDs were very finely danced – those in Act I were filled with adolescent hope and love; those in Act III were filled with desperation. Herman's partnering was strong and reliable. His own variations included jetés en manège at cyclone speed. His pirouettes were wonderful even if they weren't the customary Cornejo-brilliant.
Craig Salstein created a unique character in Mercutio in that one could not quite decide whether to like or dislike him. He was very funny but in a split second could turn dangerous. He had the same good time cavorting with Romeo and Benvolio as he had trying to kill Tybalt, which, of course, didn't work out so well for him since he's the one who actually got skewered.
Daniil Simkin's Benvolio was suitably adolescent with a smart alec side to him.
Sascha Radetsky's Tybalt offered a clear clue to his mental state when he rather casually used his sleeve to wipe Mercutio's blood off of his sword. His own death scene was disturbingly authentic. And we clearly caught all the signs that he and Stella Abrera's Lady Capulet had been horsing around for quite some time. Stella's unhinged horror at Tybalt's death pretty much took everyone's breath away by the time the curtain came down on Act II.
Gennadi Saviliev's Paris went from being pleasantly surprised by being set up with Juliet to being frustrated and annoyed by her reluctance to marry him.
Victor Barbee is always the most perfect Lord Capulet – except when Roman Zhurbin is portraying the role.
Clinton Luckett looked ridiculous as Friar Laurence and was unconvincing as Escalus. Why this guy is back on stage in any capacity is a mystery. It seems Mr. Franklin is taking the year off as Friar Laurence, but we fully expect him to reprise his role by his 100th birthday even if he has to be wheeled out to do it. His signing of the cross tells the whole tragic story; Luckett's meant nothing.
The Corps de Ballet seemed still to be in careful rehearsal mode last night.
The Pump Bump Award, an Alexander McQueen leather stiletto with skull ornament which also comes in soft suede, is bestowed upon Sascha Radetsky, whose Tybalt had just a little bit of Crown Prince Rudolph in him, which is not a bad thing. Not at all. It keeps our hopes for Mayerling alive.
. . . if we wish for it, it will come.