“Ballo della Regina,” “Romeo’s Farewell to Juliet,” “Jardin Aux Lilas,” “Company B”
American Ballet Theatre
New York, NY
October 30, 2008
by Leigh Witchel
copyright © 2008 by Leigh Witchel
It is an absolute sin that Tudor’s “Romeo and Juliet” has fallen out of repertory. Made in 1943 for American Ballet Theatre on Alicia Markova and Hugh Laing, this one act version uses music by Delius instead of the more familiar and bombastic Prokofiev. At this point, there’s some question, hotly and loudly debated, whether the Tudor can be fully recovered. ABT presented a short duet of Romeo’s farewell to Juliet. It wasn’t built to be a self-contained excerpt, but still, if the duet was any indication of the whole ballet’s quality, it’s exquisite. Eugene Berman’s celebrated costumes were not used; Juliet and Romeo were costumed simply and appropriately by Sylvia Taalsohn Nolan. The staging is credited to Kevin McKenzie, though he joined ABT a few years after the full ballet was last danced. It looked sensitively handled. As in most of his choreography, Tudor figured out ways to make ballet vocabulary conversational; we didn’t just see two people dancing together, but an intimate discussion. Tudor also rethought pointe work to his own need for expression, emphasizing motions where the toe is stabbed onto the floor almost as much as rises up onto pointe.
The scene is a bedroom, but it’s more chaste than Macmillan’s version; Juliet doesn’t press her crotch to Romeo’s. The affection is still there in fascinating and detailed lifts and leans – one where Romeo braces Juliet with her arms behind her back. In another he holds her arched back while he supports her on his leg. It’s not a handsome position for the man, but Tudor seemed willing to sacrifice the man’s line for the woman’s; something choreographers do less now. Xiomara Reyes and Gennadi Saveliev had color and subtlety they do not always have; I have never seen either of them look more eloquent. Many reasons why this ballet has not been revived have been tossed around. It’s not full length, it would cost too much to revive, the costumes and scenery can no longer be used, or there isn’t a tape of the complete choreography. I’m not sure which of these are true or which can be surmounted. One problem I could foresee is that the subtlety of the choreography and the mellow, contralto emotions might not read at the Metropolitan Opera House. It seemed perfect for City Center, perhaps the MacMillan could be done in the Spring and this version in the fall City Center season? The difference in scale and subtlety between this and the MacMillan is the difference between a Beethoven septet and “Carmina Burana.” For heaven’s sake, bring back the whole ballet.
The other Tudor on the program, “Jardin aux Lilas,” got a strange performance from an odd cast. In the midst of it was Veronika Part wearing a saturated purple dress that stood out like a sore thumb. Has the costume of “An Episode in His Past” ever been that lurid a color? Part supersized the role, with silent movie emoting and looked more like The Foreign Mistress rather than An Episode in His Past. Perhaps she would either dive tackle poor callow Thomas Forster as Caroline’s lover or sit him on her knee and teach him about the birds and the bees. As oddly as she paired with Forster, she looked much more appropriate with Vitali Krauchenka as Caroline’s husband to be. Melissa Thomas had promise and passion as Caroline, but could have used more detailed coaching. She was not alone, most of the cast veered between emoting and just doing the steps. The frozen tableau, usually the emotional peak of the ballet, was nothing more than a bunch of people who stopped moving. Oddly, Thomas threw herself into it and collapsed into her fiancée’s arms, but her collapse rang false in this ballet of restrained tragedy.
If the company looked slightly off in this production of “Jardin aux Lilas,” they don’t get “Company B” at all. They’re operating at a disadvantage, the source material can be readily seen in the same theater by Taylor’s own company. ABT’s dancers obviously can dance it, but they’re substituting energy and mugging for the grounded weight of Taylor technique.
“Ballo della Regina” opened the evening with a lighter performance than on Tuesday night; Michele Wiles was less earthbound. David Hallberg once again did well; he has a beautiful split jété, but the City Center stage is too small for the ballet in general, and especially for his legs. You could see him holding back.
There were different demi-soloists than on Tuesday, and it was a good crop. Isabella Boylston danced the first variation correctly as a single, off-balance phrase. Kristi Boone was an example of what Balanchine looks like danced by a good, but non-Balanchine dancer, Simone Messmer had the jump for the third variation, but like many other dancers needs to keep jumping even after the opening two jétés, and Leann Underwood had a lovely clean technique in the last of the variations.
copyright © 2008 by Leigh Witchel