BWW Reviews: Designing Women with Kenneth MacMillan

American Ballet Theatre's 75th anniversary spring season honored the legacy of the company's seasoned dancers and showcased its younger ranks. Mixed bills displaying a range of classic and neo-classic roles segued into ABT's strongest realm: the story ballet. Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie offered his artists as heroes and heroines. From "Othello" to "Giselle" to "La Bayadere" to Ratmansky's "The Sleeping Beauty" to Monday, June 15th's "Romeo and Juliet" at Lincoln Center's Metropolitan Opera House, his dancers remained in a stratosphere of romanticism.

Danil Simkin as Mercutio led the charge Monday evening. He forged a brotherly bond with Cory Stearns' Romeo that magnified the importance of supporting characters. Simkin's tantalizing mix of cockiness and technique (such as the myriad jetés in his solo at the Capulet's house in Act I, or his opening batterie down the grand staircase in Act II, or the intervals of cartwheels and splits in a game of leapfrog before his death by Tybalt's sword), Simkin found the range of possibilities for Mercutio's persona, which exploded in his final fight with Tybalt. Simkin writhed and joked, stringing along hope for his survival in his loyalty to Romeo before comically dropping dead to the audience's bewildered amusement.

Romeo and Juliet, with their respective positions in the Montague and Capulet families, are much more than singular characters. A production such as this is most successful when all the characters emerge to cast perspective on each other. Simkin, Daniel Matei's Paris, Susan Jones as Juliet's Nurse, and Luciana Paris, Christine Shevchenko, and Luciana Voltolini as the Three Harlots, opened their characters as portals to Verona's warring houses.

The rond de jambe reverberated in Kenneth MacMillan's choreography. It demonstrated the vicious cycle of gender, economics, and class for Romeo and Juliet. MacMillan's embrace of circularity powerfully positioned the female body. In multiple partnerships, from the trio in Act I to Romeo and Juliet's multiple pas de deux, the female acted as support for the male as he turned. However, the female body as anchor continued in its own movement, often turning in opposition to the male figure. The center of gravity formed in the shared axis between partners, rather than with the male, as in traditional partnering. Both dancers gave and received in the transmission of energy and strength.

Regardless of their class (Capulet or harlot), this dynamic briefly gave the female characters agency beyond their primary existence as exchanges in a transaction for male pleasure. In Verona, men anchored society. Women (and their bodies) were bought and sold, whether as bride, courtesan, or streetwalker. Men dominated Juliet's world, from her father arranging her marriage to Paris' perfunctory gestures, which quickly became forceful at her hesitation. Her only escape, or choice? To flee to an alternate male figure - Romeo. In movement, MacMillan illustrated an alternate reality for the women, particularly in the pas de deux with the woman originating as base support and initiation.

In a brief solo for Stearns in Act II, MacMillan delineated the complexity of Romeo's nature. Stearns executed turning arabesque sautés with his arms clenched at his sides. The lack of his arms in propulsion demanded deep pliés that rocketed his body upward. His body acted against him in the way that his love for Juliet did with the torment of adrenaline.

Hee Seo's Juliet found the sentimentality of MacMillan's movement. Playful and loving, Seo's dramatic extensions punctuated the sweeping arc of her choreography. Macmillan sent Juliet gliding into the arms of her partners, falling and rising. She captured the conflict of a child bride towards Paris in her trembling bourrées and teenage infatuation with Romeo as she draped herself over him.

In Act III Seo took flight with Stearns in the awkwardness of new romance. Stearns pulled her to attention, interrupting her delirious affections as he gazed into her eyes with a final kiss before departing from her bedroom. In the Capulet crypt, Seo showed terror at awakening among the dead. Her discovery of Romeo and Paris' bodies was quick, nearly anti-climactic. She wasted little time in mourning and joined Romeo in death.

Cory Stearns and Hee Seo by John Grigaitis.

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From This Author Melia Kraus-har

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