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June 08, 2018

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Sara Mearns? Sorry, another Sara I can’t warm to. Don’t know what it is about Sara Mearns but she is just not a favorite of mine.

I am setting aside my dislike of Whiteside to see Abrera’s Juliet. I’ll let you know what I think. I love the Prokofiev music so much that I usually go to at least one R&J. I will admit though that I am sick of this production. I don’t blame you for giving this a pass.

Hi, Ellen.

I love the MacMillan production and have witnessed life-changing performances throughout the years. There have been seasons when I joyfully attended all eight of the week's performances. Unfortunately, next week's casting is so uninspiring that it truly could end up making people dislike the ballet. Sometimes it's just better to stay away from the ballet.

Speaking of ballet in cinema, is anywhere in the city showing the Royal Ballet's Swan Lake? http://www.roh.org.uk/news/catch-the-royal-ballets-swan-lake-live-in-cinemas-and-on-bp-big-screens-on-12-june-2018

The closest I can find are Westfield, NJ or Elmsford or Huntington, NY. I'd love to see this production but these locations are so disappointing.

I agree, AMJ. I just learned that Symphony Space at Broadway & 95th St is going to present the Bolshoi's Swan Lake in August, but it has no current plans to present the Royal Ballet's new production. According to the Symphony Space website, the director of the film programs can be reached at this email address: ed.budz@symphonyspace.org or also reached at extension #204.

It is such a shame that Manhattan is being blacked-out of the RB's Swan Lake when in fact it is its most lucrative market.

I thought I'd see zero R&Js, agreeing with Haglund, that I could not get over the utterly mismatched casting, but I ended up buying tickets to see Devon's debut, and then I am being forced, somewhat against my will, to go with my sister in law to see Misty and Daniil on Saturday (she desperately wanted to see the ballet, and will only be here Saturday afternoon). I absolutely do not want it to be due to injury, but I hope Misty is called away to some fabulous event and Sarah has to fill in ;)

Take it everyone saw the article in the Times about Stella's Juliet, which features three paragraph's about Misty, because the Times cannot write about ballet without mentioning that she was the "first African-American woman to become a principal at Ballet Theater." If I found out the Times was contractually obligated to put that sentence in any ballet article, I would not be shocked.

Excited for Stella to get the solo treatment. What a phenomenal talent.

The big joke in that NYT article is the mention that Stella's promotion was over-shadowed by Copeland's. In fact, it was the NYT and Gia Kourlas who did the over-shadowing. The other joke is McKenzie trying to imply that the only thing that was Stella's career "pause button" was her injury. She was very fit for years during which McKenzie passed her over for Giselle and Juliet and for promotion. YEARS. Kourlas is as much a fraud as Copeland.

Edited to add: The dismal casting is completely by design and fully intentional. McKenzie put Whiteside with Stella and Boylston with Hallberg, instead of the more appropriate casting of Stella with Hallberg and the two perennial adolescents together, because he was banking on people wanting to see Stella and Hallberg badly enough that they would put up with the distasteful partners. Maybe some will; but others won't. And from the ticket sales, it looks like maybe it would have been a better idea to have a sellout of the house for Stella & Hallberg than a piddly showing for both casts. It's pretty pathetic when ABT can't even sell out the first row of the Grand Tier.

I am in the tiny town of Impruneta in Tuscany and saw a poster just today for Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake. And then I read this post! Solo Guigno 12 at Cinema Buondelmonte.

Thanks, Carrie. La vita è ingiusta.

MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet is one of my favorite ballets and I just have one question: Why the heck is Sarah Lane not cast as Juliet??? She is perfect for that role.

Well I do know the answer. That answer is one of many reasons why I am choosing not to see ABT when they come to LA next month. Also when I was visiting family last fall in DC I saw Mariinsky do La Bayadere. The barre has been set way too high for me now! :)

Hi, Elizabeth.

I don't blame you for skipping ABT when it comes to L.A. It is truly a shame that L.A. will not see Sarah Lane's Nikiya. Unfortunately, I don't think she probably had a snowball's chance in hell of getting one of the performances. Not only did she have to contend with McKenzie's eerie obsessions with Boylston and Copeland but the L.A. Music Center's president and CEO is none other than Rachel Moore, ABT's former Executive Director, who pushed Copeland, Boylston, and the guest artists per her very own "Star Strategy" to the forefront like they were direct descendants of Jesus. Her decisions helped screw Sarah and Stella and others when she was at ABT. The screw continues in L.A.

Can you imagine what would happen to a Mariinsky corps dancer who wobbled around in the Shades to the extent that ABT's did? She'd be doing her next plies in Siberia. Вне!

No interest in any of the casts of R&J so it’s no go for me. I find it very odd re Devon’s casting. She does not scream Juliet to me at all. It would be like Wendy Whelan as Juliet. Just not right. And Stella, bless her, is past her prime now. She’s been looking shaky to me in the past few performances I saw her in, most notably Giselle a few weeks ago.

Hi, Michael.

ABT's hard-sell of its R&J uses the pairing of Stella and Hallberg which would certainly sell out. It is unfortunate that McKenzie in his "wisdom" chose not to pair them but to put each with the most hideous substitute he could find. It makes it totally unappealing to see either cast. I won't waste the money to see one good performer and one hideous performer dance together.

I, too, was disappointed in Stella's Giselle a few weeks ago. My hope is that the problems were related to a temporary injury and that she is on the road to a complete recovery as opposed to having to dance in a held-back manner with diminished classical technique for the remainder of her career. As much as I adore her dancing and the dancing of many other senior ballerinas, and as much as I regret how her career was stymied by McKenzie's mismanagement, I simply cannot go down the Julie Kent Road with her or another ballerina. As soon as a ballerina can no longer fully serve the technical requirements of the choreography, she should step aside for someone who can. And then there is the fakerina who has never been able to manage the technique but forces her face in front of as much audience as she can find...

Saw Devon and Aran's debut yesterday afternoon. She was a lovely Juliet (no surprise there). It was actually my first time to see her in a principal role (I'll see her Odette/Odile next Monday). One minor nitpick is that she needs to work on the miming of the mandolin playing in the Ball Scene of Act 1 - it was distractingly bad. The rest of her performance was wonderful, though. The reckless abandon with which she threw herself into her balcony and bedroom pas de deux was well contrasted with the restraint she showed in her encounters with Paris and even in the moments where she meets Romeo. Her "poison soliloquy" was great as well.

I thought Aran made a promising debut as Romeo. I've heard his acting/facial expressions criticized, but I thought he actually did really well in that area. I thought he nailed the solo dancing. When it came to the trio of he, Gabe (Mercutio) and Luis (Benvolio), he was occasionally outmatched by Gabe.

The partnering..... working backwards, I thought the cemetery pas was terrific, the bedroom was good, and the balcony and ball scene... need some work. He seems to still need development in slower lifts. He was fine in the moments where he supports her upper back/shoulders and presses her up quickly, but the arabesque press lifts in the ballroom pas looked difficult. I think one issue, and this will improve over time, is that you could tell he really anticipated each lift (and broke character) and I think had a moment of nervousness, particularly in Act 1 - I think that momentary hesitation (however fleeting) explains most of the difficulties. Presumably this will get easier with each attempt and with a few performances under his belt. His partnering work markedly improved over the course of the ballet.

Random question - why do some, but not all, of the dancers wear masks at the Capulet ball? That is an odd choice to me - it's a masked ball, or it isn't. Who doesn't show up in dress code?

Also, perhaps we need to order some new swords, ABT. Both Romeo and Tybalt's swords broke (Tybalt's twice) in their duel. I was concerned they were going to have to improvise and have Romeo wrestle Tybalt to death or something!

Thanks for the report, Rachel. Sounds like a pair of promising debuts yesterday.

Whipped Cream "back by popular demand" at a 25% discount.

I really enjoyed Whipped Cream, and know they cannot shut it up in the vaults immediately, but two "fluffy" ballets (Whipped Cream and Harlequinade) in one eight-week season is a lot to take.

I went to R&J last night, a Student Rush ticket, to show support for Stella. I thought she did a lovely job, at time tentative and others, way too cerebral but overall quite pleasing. James Whiteside on the other hand was not pleasing...First, why is he allowed to have his hair flopping around? It is very distracting and then he flips his head making it even more obvious. At one point, ON STAGE, he was brushing it off his face, minor league! And he can do tricks, but can he dance? Even his trick performing was inconsistent last night, falling out of some turns and losing control after those jump tricks. He doesn't act well, I didn't feel any chemistry between Stella and James. There were calls of "Stella" during curtain calls which made me smile. The highlight of my evening was being able to tell Marcelo how much I (we) miss him at ABT!

Thanks, Whitney.

There were more than a few people, including myself, who stayed away from this performance because of Whiteside. What a shame to treat Stella with such disrespect by forcing ABT's most lacking Romeo onto her. It's good to hear that she was able to overcome the bad cards dealt to her and turn in a respectable performance.

Whiteside should not be dancing with anyone but Boylston and Copeland. He's that off-putting. Unfortunately, I'll be skipping Shevchenko's Swan Lake debut because of Whiteside.

Marcelo... What's it gonna take...

Does anyone know what happened to Marcelo? One day he was there and then another he was gone! Missing him this season :( It is just sad to see someone who gave so many years to a company and poof he just disappeared like he never existed :( IMHO he was one of the best Romeos, seems this company always lets the good ones go with little fan fair, like the matinee for Paloma! That was so insulting to me to this day!

Based on what I have read and seen there are less than a hand full of future primas in the making there, and without the proper coaching I am just not sure. I may be totally off and alone on this but the reps are getting more and more tired, especially some of the costumes and sets, or just don't feel like what this company represents, don't get me wrong, I am all for new works ... but tap for one? I wonder what the fall season will be like. Plus there seems to be a lack of coaching as I can see, other than Irina whom I believe is in her 80s? I actually was hoping Kent or Reyes would have stayed on after their retirements to become coaches, so at least we can see them but seems KM would not have that!! They may have out shined him?!

H.F.,

McKenzie's tired, stale, dull, myopic direction is now reflected in nearly every dancer's performance. He is entrenched and would rather see ABT fail than go on without him or without someone who he could personally install as his successor who would continue his failed approach.

I've read reports Marcelo Gomes will be guest starring with Sarasota Ballet at the Joyce this summer on Saturday, August 18th. I've already purchased my ticket.

ABT can't afford any more years of failure with too many ill chosen dancers as Principals. Cynically, I think this is some grand move to justify the guest star strategy. They can point to a few years of low receipts now to say, they tried home grown dancers and it didn't work. Never mind that these home grown choices were the worst choices in a company that is, amazingly enough, still filled with good talent.

Completely see your point Haglund and it is truly sad as I have been a supporter for so many years till recent, I wonder what Lucia Chase would say about all this :/ His ego will get the better of him and sadly a company that his predecessors proudly built. I lament the days of Misha much when we had all the wonderful stars.

I also went last night. I wanted to see Abrera as Juliet, plain and simple, and I also wanted to revisit Arron Scott's Mercutio. For me Scott does one of the better restrained, not too over the top death scenes and I appreciate that. This time around it was Hammoudi's Tybalt that went too far in a death scene, but I thought the rest of his performance was wonderful; he's a far better Tybalt than he ever was a Romeo. I had mixed feelings about Tom Forster as Paris; I thought he was a total nonentity, uninteresting to the max, until the final scene in Juliet's bedroom and then he came alive. Like who is this guy, where has he been for the rest of the ballet?

The absolute standout who deserves a medal was Keith Roberts as the Duke of Verona. He was the best actor on stage in the first scene, with total commitment to his role and he created a powerful, I want your attention now Duke. As the old theater adage goes, there are no small parts, only small actors (and he wasn't one).

Whiteside: I can't put my finger on exactly what was wrong. He had a lack of crispness, a certain looseness next to Scott and Ribagorda. There was just no there there as they say. I felt he did improve as the evening went on but the end result was nothing to write home about. He's a typical ABT utility dancer: he gets the job done but there is nothing special about it.

STELLA: what can I say? It was worth it to sit through everything just to see her dance. My negative is that she and Whiteside cannot do teenage love. This was two 20 or 30 somethings falling hard, this was not two teenagers. Still, I will take this over what I thought was the terrible Ferri-Cornejo outing 2 years ago: in that one I thought I was watching Romeo dance with his mother.

OK, that's enough incoherent rambling from me. Have a nice weekend, Haglund.

Hi, Ellen. Thanks much for your review.

A word about Paris. I believe the character of Paris exhibits extreme formality (despite his fondness for Juliet) and is, of course, quite a bit more mature than Juliet. He can't come across as a viable option for her love interest, but at the same time can't appear cruel or unattractive. Saveliev had this character nailed down the best at the close of his career, but I think the character is a complex one to develop.

Thank you, Haglund, for your insights on Paris. You always give me something to think about when you respond to a comment of mine. One of my firm beliefs is ‘respect the source material’ in any adaptation. I think perhaps that it’s time I reread the play and get a handle on who these characters should be.

LOL, Ellen. On the other hand, I suspect sometimes ABT's dancers who portray Paris get him mixed up with Prince Gremin in Onegin...

Ellen, curious as to your thoughts, but I think part of the problem with ABT Parises (ParisI?) is that they are cool as cucumbers until the crypt scene and then they are writhing and convulsing a la Lady Capulet. It's hard to trace the muted display of "love" shown to Juliet earlier in the ballet to the intense feelings felt at her death.

Whitney, I think it's pretty common to have floppy hair for Romeo. Hallberg's was certainly floppy on Wednesday night, and in the beloved Ferri-Corella recording, Angel's hair is floppy too. I like it. I think it nicely effects the boyish quality in a Romeo.

Last night was certainly Stella's night, but I am thankful also that James, while unmemorable, was for her a strong and capable partner. So much of the beauty of Juliet's choreography is succumbing and trusting her partner, and James was able to facilitate that so that Stella could dance with total abandon. Perhaps a low bar, but here we are.

I went last night as well to see Stella dance. I agree with Ellen's review above, except I loved Ferri/Cornejo R&J and this paled in comparison. I didn't think Stella nailed Juliet in acts I and II. She was playing it like a cross between first act Giselle and the daughter from La Fille. It was all too smiley and happy nad I just wasn't buying it. But Act III was stupendous. It's when the tragic part started that's when she came alive and her death scene had quite an impact.
Forster was playing Paris as a non-entity also until the third act. Then all of a sudden there were shades of possessive cruelty in his pas de deux with Juliet. I liked Aaron Scott's Mercutio and Ribagorda's Benvolio. Whiteside was sloppy and that's from someone who doesn't generally mind him. I understand Stella Abrera likes dancing with him? And she usually elevates his dancing, but not this time. The lifts in the balcony were not effortless either. I even wondered what was wrong with him. He did somewhat improve by the third act, but this was not good. I did like Hammoudi's Thibault. I actually think he did a great job, as did Basmagy as Lady Capulet. Keith Roberts had a very affecting scene. I thought the harlots were just Ok. Shayer was the best of the bunch in the mandolin dance. Bell got a lot of stage time in the corps. I read he did a decent Romeo with Devon?
Nothing will stop me from seeing Shevchenko's debut in Swan Lake, not even Whiteside/Bell, but how I wish Marcelo was dancing with her...
On the bright side people were discussing him during the intermission. He is very dearly missed.
I still remember the good old days of Reyes and Kent and Ananiashvili and Dvorovenko and Bocca and Belotserkovsky and Herrera and Corella, and what on earth happened to this company?

K, I've seen R&J so many times....I never remember being distracted by Romeo's hair. I understand the concept but I was just watching his hair not him. It did seem to be slightly calmed down after the first scene so maybe they had left it too loose. He also throws his head more than most dancers so that too could have added to my consternation.

Because I'd read Haglund earlier in the week, I couldn't help but in my head compare the Stella/James pairing with the potential of a Stella/David pairing. And then there was Marcelo in the audience whose Romeo to Diana's Juliet was sublime! I'm trying to move on, but clearly ABT isn't giving me great material with which to work.

Rachel,

I don’t know what to say about Paris. I’ve never really considered him before: not his age, his motives in marrying Juliet, etc. Forster was so off and then so on that he made me take notice, but in a what’s going on with this guy way. It goes back to the ‘no small roles’ adage. Every role, no matter how small, should be cast with the best available actor/dancer/singer etc. (Once again, I’m talking about you, Keith Roberts, and your Duke of Verona.)

I really must reread the play and see what characteristics Shakespeare gave these characters.

I was so happy to see Stella Abrera finally dance Juliet. Despite the flaws, especially the highly questionable partner, I would never want to miss a debut for a dancer like her. I'd never bother or even consider doing the same for any the AD's three pet principals - you know who they are - none of whom have ever provided me with a moment's pleasure or the slightest hint of artistry on stage. Viva Stella!

Rachel Perez, re your random question about people in masks. It comes directly from the Shakespeare play. A group of maskers (or masquers) arrive to provide the entertainment following Capulet’s feast (it’s not a masked ball). Romeo and friends gain entry to the Capulet house by donning masks and joining the maskers. Capulet's guests for the feast therefore are not masked. The ballet, of course, cannot convey all the information from the original play. It’s worth a read to help deepen your understanding of what’s occurring on stage and the character motivations.

Thanks, LLF, for the clarification about the masks.

Unfortunately, Whiteside was off-putting enough to cancel my buy decision, just as he caused me to cancel plans to see Veronika Part's final Swan Lake last year. I actually know people who bailed on purchased tickets so as not to see him. I found the casting to be particularly disgusting considering Hallberg was assigned to one of the two worst principals in the history of ABT instead of Stella in order to balance out the beauty and artistry with the opposite of it. And that was AFTER McKenzie used Hallberg WITH Stella in ALL of the R&J promo material.

And I note that Copeland seems to be able to avoid dancing with Whiteside most of the time.

I'm one of those who bailed on purchased tickets: $145 X 2 = $290. I was hoping I would be able to go, but as the date drew nearer I realized that I simply couldn't bear to look at Whiteside. What a stupid hiring decision on the part of McK!

As far as the male soloists, I imagine they're quaking in their boots at the arrival of Aran Bell, who has a gorgeous line and is apparently up to the challenge. Now HE should be fast-tracked.

LLF, thank you for the reminder of the role of the masks in the play! my issue in the ballet is that it clearly doesn’t follow the script of a “group of masked persons who provide entertainment”. In the grand “Dance of the Knights”, random noble persons have, and do not have, masks on, so the ballet’s grip on this particular plot point seems tenuous. Fully get why Romeo and his crew need to wear masks, but even in the entry scene, some clearly non-entertainment related noble guests have masks on. On an unrelated note to ballet, I liked that the Baz Lurhman version of R&J made it a costume party, as this allowed the “masking” of Romeo and crew.

All that said, MacMillan and Prokofiev’s deep knowledge of the text is so apparent throughout the ballet. It’s one of the reasons I find it a great introductory ballet for newbies, because you hear and see the words of Shakespeare. Now here’s to hoping my fond memories of Devon and Aran’s debuts are not sullied by the performance tomorrow afternoon!

Question for Haglund community: what does Juliet typically do/what is the stage instruction for disposing of the vile of “potion” she drinks? I feel like a recall someone throwing it out the window. Today, Misty just dropped in on the floor. Is there a “right” thing to do?

Rachel, yes, Juliet drops it on the floor after drinking it. Alessandra Ferri sometimes took a frightened hop away from it while staring at it on the floor. In the infamous telecast in which McKenzie was wearing droopy sweatpants during the final act, Makarova just dropped the vile without looking at it.

I am late to the party, but I was at the Teuscher/Bell matinee and agree with angelica that Bell should be fast-tracked. Let him please not be another stifled ABT dancer. What such a young interpreter will make of Rothbart is quite the question!

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