Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Juliet of the spirits

Dvorovenko floats in ABT's Romeo and Juliet

by Donna Perlmutter

It may not happen in the first scenes of "Romeo and Juliet," when the innocent teenage heroine is still playing with her teddy bear and her hair is still braided neatly around her head. Those are pretty much prescribed. But by the time love strikes her like a thunderbolt and she's flying around in an ignited state, we just might get to see who Kenneth MacMillan had in mind when he created his unendingly engaging 1965 ballet to Prokofiev's marvelous score.

And that's exactly what happened opening night of American Ballet Theatre's week-end run of the work at the Music Center -- because Irina Dvorovenko did not just dance the steps beautifully or negotiate the internally acrobatic pas de deux with Roberto Bolle expertly. She showed us the full dimension of Juliet's feeling states by taking the choreography's basic outline and adding her own imprint, her own grace notes -- nuances that enlarged on each stolen meeting with her Romeo and grew more weighted as the drama deepened.

It was outside the ballroom (scene of their momentous love-at-first-sighting), and in the courtyard, when the two flew into each other's arms -- for mere seconds at a time, before various Capulets came upon them -- that she leaned into his side, melting against him, each repeat yielding another level of intimacy and tenderness in these urgently fleet episodes.

Also, after the tragic consequences of their star-crossed love began to sink in, after she realized there was no escape from the parental order to marry another, she formed her body into a linear sheaf, and leaned backward on pointe to bourrée in helpless horror. Yes, MacMillan plotted the steps but she gave them an indelible image.

Dvorovenko, with her frail, child-like arms and chest, flies like a leaf, given up totally to the emotions impelling her. She resembles an antique print, a reduction to fragile lines but miraculously animated and wind-swept.

We remember others, of course. Most recently the just-retired Alessandra Ferri, whose balcony scene had the rapture of her voluptuously supple spine and neck and dove-shaped arches all stretched to the max in passionate explosion.

Bolle's Romeo certainly boasted a technique in the best classical tradition, if not the deeply dramatic profile Dvorovenko gave us. A perfect piece of equipment who's runway-ready down to his last hair, he is a glorious 6' 3 and could easily call himself the Robert Goulet of ballet. Everything works: his turnout, his line, his unity of movement, his alacrity -- even for so tall a dancer. But Bolle remains a "here I am, folks" kind of guy. Hardly one who loses himself in the character or in the moment.

One quibble regarding their partnership: in the balcony pas de deux they broke the ever-swirling momentum of lifts that should quickly devolve into body twists and turns; they held those lifts too long (circus acts?), thus contradicting Prokofiev's torrential music and even slacking off on the density of steps.

Other changes also took place. In the ballroom scene this Romeo, before spying Juliet, broadened and intensified his stage-side flirtation with Rosaline -- so distractingly that my eyes stayed on it and away from the central act, the young heroine dancing.

But all else was quite well done. The production, with its arresting Georgiadis decors and colorfully rowdy Renaissance townspeople, is a Ballet Theatre gem. It almost doesn't matter
that a small point -- no coaching for Clinton Luckett whose one task as the Prince of Verona was to walk on authoritatively, to Prokofiev's crashing intro, and stop the marketplace melée; instead he conjured up all the fearsomeness of a shrimpy schoolboy. And, of course, there seems never to be a way to get pit-orchestra horns to play without making us cringe at their bobbles. Otherwise, Ormsby Wilkins gathered his musical forces together for the score's sweeping ardor, delicate lyricism and mighty drama.

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