May 15th, 2007

"Romeo and Juliet", Milwaukee Ballet.

On Saturday the 12th, we finshed our Milwaukee Ballet Season with a very fine performance of "Romeo and Juliet," as chorographed by the Ballet's artistic director Michael Pink, to music by Sergei Prokofiev, which is quite different than the "Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture" by Tchaikovsky. There are no pretty walzes here. Although tuneful, Prokofiev's score is turbulent and sometimes disturbing.

Pink has produced a very dynamic and interesting set of dances to the music. The Saturday performance featured Luz San Miguel as Juliet, David Hovhannisyan as Romeo, Marc Petrocci as Mercutio, Ryan Martin as Benvolio, Christoper Fellows as Tybalt, Andrey Kasatsky as Paris, and Adam Sterr and Ballet Mistress Nadia Thompson as Lord and Lady Capulet. All the dancing was flawless to our eyes, very powerfully and skillfully done, including the company which engaged in some very complicated chorography in the crowd scenes.

Such a scene opens the ballet, a street market. The three Montagues, Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio skylark through the street, flirting with the girls. These three work together very well both in comic timing and in dance unity, despite the disparity of builds. Adherents of both Montague and Capulet gradually enter and pressure builds as the crowd thickens until shoving breaks out between some of the men, which soon spreads into a general brawl involving even the vendors and the young girls. Tybalt enters with drawn sword, and tries to dominate the situation, but he is baited by Romeo armed with a broom, Mercutio with a stick of firewood, and Benvolio with what appeared to be a french loaf. The Lords Montague and Capulet enter and restore momentary order, but quickly come to blows themselves, until the Duke of the City enters and scolds everyone to a halt.

The second scene is the night of the Capulets' ball. Mercutio and Benvolio taunt Romeo into crashing the party with them in an exuberant display of adolescent "studliness." Once inside, we see the Capulets dancing to the piece known as "Dance of the Knights." This was one of the most striking set pieces of the evening. The Capulets are richly robed in gold overlaying red, wine, and chocolate velvets. The music is a somber pavane-like tempo, but the choreography is a slowed-down tango, made wonderfully ominous by the fact that the men (and briefly the women) dance with drawn daggers held aloft. Add torch-colored lighting, and the party seems to be a sinister cult meeting. (If you want creepy dances, Pink is your man--see my prior review of his "Dracula" ballet--). When Juliet and Paris, in cream and white, enter, one has the uneasy feeling that they are the intended sacrificial victims. Paris' dancing with Juliet is stong, graceful, utterly correct and utterly safe. By contrast, Romeo is agressive and flirtatious and makes it no wonder Juliet prefers him.

Romeo continues his fascination of Juliet in the rapturous garden scene, and the Shakespeare plot continues fairly closely from there on.

The second act includes the duel scene, with some nice variations from the standard. Mercutio, wounded by Tybalt, initially denies he is hurt, but then, when he begins to fail, his friends think that he is acting. He falls dead to their mocking applause. When the truth of his death comes home, Romeo kills Tybalt with shocking viciousness.

The third act was, in my mind, unfairly criticised by the local paper critic for not having enough "dance" in it--evidently defining dance as up-on-toes classical ballet. There were, nevertheless, two very fine pas de deux in this act: the opening scene with Romeo and Juliet is a dream of love fulfilled. After she gets the horrid news of her pending wedding to Paris, the betrothal dance is full of subtleties: first, Paris is correct as before; then the dance assumes overtones of the Capulets' pavane from the first act; when Paris tries to become more passionate, Juliet rebuffs him, then grudgingly continues with the dance but becomes ever more stiff and cold, until it appears that Paris is dancing with a mannequin. Juliet has two dramatic solo scenes in this sequence--her 'tantrum' when she gets the news of her wedding to Paris, and later, her dance with the potion bottle.

After Juliet has drunk the sleeping potion, there is a remarkable sequence in the tomb when Romeo has an almost necrophilic encounter with Juliet's "body" during which time it was astonishing to see that San Miguel was able to remain totally limp while flung about the stage by Hovhannisyan. San Miguel then ends the ballet with her own dance of grief over Romeo's dead form.

We enjoyed this ballet very, very much, and will be looking closely at the offerings for next season.