BWW Reviews: Pacific Northwest Ballet's ROMEO ET JULIETTE
Described in the program notes as the "fil-rouge," or continuing thread of this production, Laurence is given a high degree of agency in advancing the plot. However, he proves to be powerless to prevent the action from taking its tragic final turn. Friar Laurence introduces each act of the ballet and we are meant to understand that he is looking backward upon the events of the story and foreshadowing them to the audience. The degree of his importance in the ballet is therefore paramount but Lin-Yee did not quite reach the level of gravitas that the role required. He achieved his greatest success in this ballet during Act III's bedchamber scene in which he provides the sleeping draught that leads to the suicides that end the play. It was here that he most fully reached the necessary level of pathos as he supported Juliet with poetic sensitivity.
Maria Chapman's Lady Capulet was pure regal authority as the lone representative of the parental generation. She is a tall, long limbed and exceptionally lean dancer. Her feet are so long and highly arched that they must elicit involuntary envy from every ballerina who sees her dance. This role too has been increased from a mostly mime part to one with a great deal of challenging dancing. Chapman's dancing was all elegant control and darting high extensions up until the death of Tybalt which signals the turn from comedy with an edge to tragedy. This is classical ballet's most dramatic moment and Prokofiev's finest achievement as a composer. If this moment doesn't give you goose bumps then the ballet may be considered a failure. Maillot gives his Lady Capulet free rein to engage in full-on hair rending grief which Chapman did so forcefully that it made one wish that there were another twenty-five pieces in the orchestra to match her dramatic output.
Batkhurel Bold's Tybalt was archetypically powerful. Bold's strength as a dancer is that he radiates a palpable masculine menace coupled with a perfectly still interior. With his stage presence he doesn't need to do much to conjure a threatening air because it's always extant. He danced with an arrogant authority that left no doubt as to who was in charge in the House of Capulet. The one downside to discarding the swords for this production is that it is inconceivable that this Romeo could ever defeat this Tybalt in hand to hand combat.
Mercutio, as seen in this ballet, is something of a major irritant. Ezra Thompson played this Mercutio with an abrasively cocky, streetwise sensibility and he was never better than when he was playing the mean-edged prankster. He goads Tybalt so relentlessly that it comes as no surprise when Tybalt slays him. Unfortunately it is jolting for an audience to realize they very nearly wish they could lend Tybalt a hand in the slaying. It was easy to dislike the character of this Mercutio, but impossible to disMiss Thompson's conviction.
James Moore, newly elevated to principal dancer and a fine technician, portrayed Romeo with heartfelt and reckless passion. From his early cavorting with Mercutio and Benvolio to his reckless pursuit of Rosalind, Moore invested this Romeo with testosterone enough to make his sudden passion for Juliet believable. He was smitten. His rapport with Kaori Nakamura's Juliet was beautiful to watch. His partnering was fluid and showed fine dramatic range.
It is the east coast's loss that Kaori Nakamura has spent her whole career on the west coast and up in Winnipeg. Her Juliet was brimming with all the elements that go into playing the part persuasively. This is the third version of Romeo and Juliet she has danced and she clearly knows this character inside and out. She perfectly encapsulated Juliet's youth and wonder and invested her performance with a credible degree of evolution from playful innocence to exuberant passion and finally, searing grief and death.
Kaori Nakamura and James Moore in PNB's Roméo et Juliette
Photo © Angela Sterling
Despite the problem of Friar Laurence and some issues of clarity, Maillot's Roméo et Juliette had several beautiful moments deserving of particular mention. To list them all would take too much space but briefly, here are a few.
Kylee Kitchens' entrance as Rosalind in the first scene of the first act was breathtaking. Attired in an exquisite gray satin gown, Kitchens invested Rosalind with a glittering glamour that gave no doubt as to how and why Romeo could have become infatuated with her based on reputation alone.
The second scene's interplay between Juliet, Lady Capulet and the Nurse in Juliet's bedchamber was nearly perfect in every way. Every look and hand gesture speaking to the relationships between the three of them was delivered beautifully. We saw the Nurse's tenderness and bawdiness towards Juliet and deference/fear towards Lady Capulet, Juliet's playfulness with her Nurse and conflict with her mother, and Lady Capulet's stern authority over the Nurse and gentle but firm maternal attitude towards Juliet. Each of them worked together seamlessly to convey the complexity of this important household scene.
The moment when Romeo and Juliet are brought face to face at the ball for the first time was riveting and allowed us to feel, like a thunderclap, how irresistible their mutual attraction was. There could be no escape for either of them after that moment. It was indelible, as was the sweetness of Romeo sneaking in to give Juliet their first kiss.
Juliet sliding down the ramp during the Balcony Scene was a visual delight in its brilliant combination of revelation of character with set design. It would be tempting for a choreographer to over-use a set element like the ramp but it was never cloying here. Juliet's vivacity is evident and contagious in this little vignette.
Act II opens with a tableau that is memorable for the two Capulets on stage left who are frozen in an attitude of such pure energy and intensity that it begs to be cast in bronze.
Act II, scene 6 includes a puppet show, a play within the play, in which the story of the play is offered as a comedy. It is unexpectedly funny to watch the characters emoting foolishly and ultimately killing one another.
Juliet, in the tomb with Romeo's head on her lap, throws herself over him with such heart-rending grief that one is dumbfounded to realize that her wail was silent. Nakamura's despair was utterly convincing.
These were all wonderful and memorable moments held together by a dramatically and technically strong company in a contemporary ballet version of Roméo et Juliette. Maillot's addition to the repertoire of story ballets is welcome and suits these dancers very well. Hopefully it won't be so long before Pacific Northwest Ballet returns to New York again to show off more of its repertory. There are many outstanding dancers in this company that New York would love to see more of.