I was thrilled to see Northern Ballet Theatre in my all-time-favorite ballet, Romeo and Juliet. What could be better than Shakespeare, a live orchestra, and world-class dancing all in one? The last time I saw this ballet was in 2004, American Ballet Theater’s version of Romeo and Juliet at the Metropolitan Opera House. Since then, I have not seen a company that could outdo ABT’s interpretation of Prokofiev’s exquisite score. A few years later, in 2007, New York City Ballet premiered Peter Martin’s interpretation of the love story, using two talented young dancers from the School of American Ballet to accurately portray Juliet as 16-year-old girl.
While a mature dancer lends deeper emotions to the piece than a 16-year-old can, the youthfulness of Juliet’s character can only be expressed by an almost juvenile innocence. You never see a mature looking Juliet. This rule NBT stuck to, casting one of their young looking dancers for the role. However, there was not enough emotion that I would expect a mature dancer to portray.
When you have seen the bond that dancers such as Julie Kent and Angel Corella can create onstage in a manner of a couple hours that leaves you heart-wrenched, it is unfair to compare any other pair to them. The acting and the dancing were astounding for young dancers, but in such a famous classic, it is a challenge enough to create the atmosphere, let alone bring something new to the stage.
Christopher Gable’s adaption of the tragedy does its best to convey the passion and intensity of the story for a smaller cast and stage. His interpretation of the swash-buckling, gypsy bickering scene of 16th century Italy is just as accurate as any other, but sometimes I felt the choreography was not true to the time period. For instance, there were too many lifts and slides in the lotus position. Not to say Gable’s choreography was not effective:
The energy of the masquerade ball with the women swinging their long velvet sleeves with their circular arm movements drew me in, as well as the men’s fiery dance red poles in place of traditional swords. The sets and costumes were accurate for the time period and impressive, but I couldn’t help but notice how Gable tried to make his stage and his ballet different from any other classical version of the ballet that has been done. He bravely incorporated more grounded movements than traditional ballet and played with the levels to create contrast in the dancer’s bodies. That is by means a negative assessment. Gable may be well on his way to paving the way for contemporary dance and classical story ballet to collide.
No wonder this is an audience favorite – the ballet is filled with acting that portrays the story better through movements and gestures than words could ever do. Shakespeare would have been proud.
I tried to sit back and watch the story unfold, but the dancer and the critic in me wants to pick one dancer and focus on him or her and analyze every move and every step. I can remember how it felt: the swell of the orchestra taking me where the choreography had never taken me before…
The searing lights beat down upon your hair-spray plastered head, the ribbons pinned so tightly in your hair whipping you in the face as your partner pulls you around. He looks so different in his costume than in those gray tights and sweaty T-shirt in the rehearsal studio. The choreography is a breeze since it has been engrained in your muscle memory after weeks of rehearsals. This is the only part you have to focus on your timing: glancing at the couple in front of you out of the corner of your eye, you make sure you line up behind them for the pose on “four!” Then sauté with your partner right away on “six” glissade, feeling his hands on your waist, “seven”, jete into the curtain on “eight!” Slowly he lowers you down onto his chest; you know that the section is over, and for now the rest of the dance the two of you and the five other couples get to sink into the backdrop and cheer on the lead couple like pleasant villagers until the end of the act.