By Alexandra Tomalonis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 6, 2006
The late Sir Kenneth MacMillan's "Romeo and Juliet" may not be the most poetic or the most exciting balletic version of Shakespeare's famous play, but it's certainly the most durable. American Ballet Theatre's strong ensemble performance Friday night -- the first of several over the weekend at the Kennedy Center Opera House -- showed why.
MacMillan's "Romeo," first danced by Britain's Royal Ballet in 1965 and staged for ABT by the choreographer 20 years later, is as much about the times and the town as it is about two young lovers caught up in a family feud. As it often does, the night belonged to the men. Marcelo Gomes's passionate Romeo, Gennadi Saveliev's swaggering Tybalt, Herman Cornejo's witty Mercutio and David Hallberg's patrician yet very human Paris led a strong cast that created a vibrant Renaissance world.
Julie Kent's Juliet was, as always, beautifully danced -- but remote. All the pretty poses were there, but neither her passion for Romeo nor her dancing ever quite caught fire. In contrast, Gomes danced as though he were living the drama, and his bold, joyous dancing, whether in the town square with his friends or with Juliet in the balcony pas de deux, was a metaphor for his emotions.
Cornejo's incisively danced and acted death scene was the dramatic climax of the ballet, and his "Mandolin Dance" (allotted to Mercutio in ABT's staging) was the most exciting dancing of the evening. Cornejo dances like a whirlwind, yet each individual step is as clear as a freeze-frame image.
Hallberg made an equally strong impression merely by standing still. He's a star in the making. Paris is often little more than a human prop, but Hallberg made him a person. He even showed a flash of anger in the scene where Juliet, obviously reluctant, agrees to marry him.
It was a strong cast all around. Saveliev's Tybalt was a Renaissance hothead, quick to anger and quick to fight. Maria Bystrova managed to be both icy and enticing as Rosaline, Romeo's first infatuation. The beautiful Veronika Part is much more effective now in Lady Capulet's over-the-top mourning of Tybalt's death than she was a few seasons ago. And Frederic Franklin needed only two short scenes to create a memorable character as Friar Lawrence. Franklin can greet the dawn, celebrate life, be at peace with his God and plot the politics of an entire city in three steps and a look. At 91, he is a true Lord of the Dance.
David LaMarche conducted the Kennedy Center Orchestra, which sounded at times as though it were sight-reading a score its members had never heard. Had there been a rehearsal? That the dancers could rise above the flaccid cacophony thrashing about in the pit was a testament to their stagecraft, but they shouldn't have to prove it that way.