Cultures collide. Battles ensue. Love springs from hate. Innocents die. And so it goes...
And so it went Tuesday night when Diana Vishneva's Juliet was sucked into the vortex of tragedy with Marcelo Gomes’ Romeo whirling right behind her. Two hours and 51 minutes blew by like mere seconds.
In his masterpiece, Kenneth MacMillan paints the storyline of Shakespeare’s most famous play with bold stroke after bold stroke of blazingly brilliant choreography – its clarity and intimacy making the audience feel less like viewers and more like witnesses. It is so strong a work of art that it can easily withstand an uneven performance or an off-night.
Last night wasn’t pristine by any means and much of the ensemble looked unready for their roles. It’s been a while since we have seen such sloppiness in the men performing the Mandolin Dance. Our Mercutio, Arron Scott, died very well and convinced us with his drama throughout his time on stage, but he must up his level of errorless virtuosity. Renvall, Boggs, Radojevic, De Luz, Matthews, Cornejo all danced this role with the sharpness of swords.
We were expecting the Three Harlots to deliver a blowout of a performance, but they were quite the tame spirits although their execution of the choreography was fine. All of the ladies have the ability to summon their inner strumpets better than they did last night. Perhaps these were debuts without sufficient rehearsal and we will see bigger personalities later in the week.
Devon Teuscher’s Lady Capulet will grow more dramatically with every performance, and we are confident that we’ll eventually see a very big interpretation. This role lies in the eyes, the tilt of the chin, and the unhinged hysteria.
Alexandre Hammoudi’s Paris was properly stoic (and handsome). His exasperation with Juliet could easily be felt.
Blaine Hoven’s Benvolio was superbly danced. He is one of the finer classical dancers in the company who possesses every physical quality and technical element needed to dance big, important roles. We’ve been on the Blaine Train for at least a dozen years. We been through derailments, track work, delayed schedules, and some wonderful scenic rides - such as the blistering Swan Lake PdT with Maria Riccetto and Stella Abrera, his Lensky in Onegin, and Des Grieux in Camellias. Why can’t ABT get the Blaine Train on a faster track? Why isn’t this man a soloist preparing principal roles?
Thomas Forster’s Tybalt slowly and methodically convinced us of his ruthlessness and evil temperament. His fight with Romeo was one for the ages. When those two big guys started clanking their swords everyone else immediately got safely out of the way. He took the sword in the chest very well with a loud gasp of air that could be heard clearly. His death was sufficiently gruesome.
Our Romeo and Juliet are by now fairly comfortable dancing this ballet together and had their gears perfectly calibrated. The verismo atmosphere that they created was electric and passionate. Their PdDs had as much freedom within them as we’ve ever seen. Juliet’s confrontations with her father, performed by Roman Zhurbin, reflected both her rebelliousness and her respect for him.
Unfortunately in the final scene, Diana advanced her own death far too quickly. There was little pain or ugliness and she turned it into just the kind of arranged pretty posing that MacMillan did not want (per the biography by Jan Parry). Nor did she use the effect of absolute stillness that MacMillan wanted in the Act II “lean-against-the-bed-scene” where Juliet ponders her impossible situation. Juliet leans against the bed, stares straight out into the darkness of the house, and (hopefully) doesn’t blink. Says Parry, “On stage, the effect is that of a film close-up, drawing the audience in to share the girl’s agonising tension.” Diana didn’t let us in on the tension. She looked into her lap until the last few notes of music when she raised her face. There was nothing dramatically powerful about it at all. Staring out at the audience and not blinking is just another one of those things that require practice; it’s not that difficult. We’re reminded of a similar but far more difficult moment that Herman Cornejo conquered when he danced Mercutio some years back. When he got skewered and died, he lay on the floor with his “dead” eyes wide open staring up at the ceiling - that is, directly into the lights.
We imagine that Marcelo will continue dancing Romeo as long as Diana wants to dance Juliet, but it is a very taxing role with every little error revealed in white tights under bright lights. While not the technical marvel of five or six years ago, Marcelo still shot through the grand allegro in grand style while looking like he had a little bit in reserve – that is to say, not much strain was evident.
Some of the corps members showed exemplary gravitas in the ballroom scene (Lavine, Baca, Whiteley, others) but overall the group members didn’t seem to have a sense of their own importance. They walked about without any real weight. A few even looked like children playing dress-up. And so it goes...
The HH Pump Bump Award, a fierce stiletto with sword, is bestowed upon Blaine Hoven who deserves a little more recognition from ABT.