LeFevre went to the Metropolitan Ballet's "Romeo and
Juliet" without high hopes, but was carried away by this
stellar production. Can the Metropolitan keep it up? With
a certain amount of trepidation, I took in the matinee of
The Metropolitan Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet last Sunday.
It’s my “job” as a dance critic (freelance
or not) to keep up (as best I can) with all the companies
and choreographers in town.
That said, I’m thrilled to report that The Metropolitan
Ballet’s second venture, a remounting of Romeo and Juliet
(Sanborn has produced the ballet before) was an unqualified
success. The two-hour production was a captivating, compelling
piece of storytelling, in which beautifully painted sets,
sumptuous costumes, evocative lighting, Prokofiev’s
score, Gregory Drotar’s choreography, a large and capable
cast, and outstanding principal dancers merged in a seamless
case of arriving with low expectations that were exceeded?
I don’t think so. By the end of the third second scene,
I’d decided Romeo and Juliet was worth talking about.
It was the ballroom scene, in which the warring Capulet and
Montague families (and their tribes), having been relieved
of their swords by the Prince of Verona (Patrick Scully),
partner each other with controlled austerity, taunt each other
with rambunctious leaps, parry each other with empty sword
thrusts, and spear each other with lethal stares.
Out of this precisely composed swirl of color, light and action
emerged Juliet (Mifa Ko) and Romeo (Ramon Theilen), whose
megawatt smiles and youthful giddiness threatened to obliterate
their artistry. But they’re simply too good. From the
moment they set eyes on each other, you can feel their mutual
attraction. I got the sense this wasn’t just superb
acting; that Ko and Theilen like and respect each other as
people and artists. Animated, sculptural and muscular, Theilen
(a principal with Dance Theater of Harlem) exudes a warmth,
care and tenderness that tempers his passion. Perfect, because
Ko is just a wisp of thing whose arms ripple like ribbons
as Theilen grasps her waist. She sends off invisible sparks
as she flits around him, her skirts aswirl like tiny starbursts.
During the first kiss, he elevates her delicately off her
Later, during the exquisitely danced balcony scene, she flies
weightlessly into his arms and he positions her beautifully
along his side, or high overhead, or spinning out from his
firm grasp. It was, quite simply, breathtaking. In the shadowy
crypt scene, which opens with a menacing, milling crowd of
black-cloaked shades, Ko evinces the horror of Juliet finding
Romeo dead with the potency of a jagged spasm and Butoh-like
silent scream. Framing the star-crossed lovers were joyous
village scenes filled with leapfrogging children and seductively
frolicking adults. The blond Vitali Krauchenka portrayed Tybalt
with the sadism of a S.S. officer. The exuberant Gerardo Gil
portrayed Mercutio as a good-time guy and loyal friend. Juliet’s
“Friends,” in their filmy white knee-length gowns,
were hesitant at times, but gained confidence as the performance
was the word that repeatedly came to mind as I was borne away
by the production. This Romeo and Juliet was infused with
a sweetness that (almost always) steered clear of saccharine
by virtue of chemistry, artistry and excellent production
values. It appears, after all, that Sanborn has got the goods.
But, from here on in, can he consistently produce high-quality
ballets? He’s one-down, one-up in this inaugural three-part
season. The Metropolitan Ballet’s summer concert—which
pairs the reconstruction of Agnes de Mille’s iconic
Rodeo with Minneapolis choreographer Jennifer Hart’s
neoclassical take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream—will
determine a lot. Not whether the company’s of flagship-ballet
status (there’s a lot more proving to be done, on stage
and within the dance community, before that could happen).
But whether this pick-up company created for one lovely principal
ballerina, Mifa Ko, can sustain some measure of credibility
and excellence beyond one production.