The other night I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to see the American Ballet Theatre’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Performed at the magnificent Metropolitan Opera where classiness and thick, red carpeting abound, this was an excellent occasion on which to take in a bit of culture, and finally utilize my diamond-encrusted opera glasses. OK, I don’t actually own any opera glasses, but the guy next to me had some, and boy did they seem sophisticated and useful. Just being in the theatre at all with its sparkly chandeliers and ten dollar glasses of champagne was itself quite the treat, and combined with the music of Prokofiev, the spectacular talent of the dancers (Romeo: David Hallberg, Juliet: Gillian Murphy), and of course the story written by this one dude Shakespeare, the evening shone with a fabulousness I rarely encounter.
As the audience filed into their seats and I was leafing though the program, I figured it was probably a good thing that I was more than familiar with the story of the ill-fated lovers Romeo and Juliet. Certainly throughout a performance consisting only of dancing and not of spoken lines there would have been moments of confusion and detachment had I not been familiar with the storyline taking place. However, literary knowledge was unnecessary, for it came to pass that the dancers were so amazingly expressive and captivating that they could have been dancing out the story of Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause Three: The Escape Clause and I would have been moved. True, there may not be as many gut-wrenchingly emotional moments in this “film” that there are in Romeo and Juliet (both die at the end), but still, them dancers were real talented. The wonderful score, sets, and costumes were all features that added to the excellence of the ballet overall, but the dancers certainly were the highlight with their passion, energy, and those funny shoes they wear.
One of the things that struck me was the style of ballet that was showcased. Rather than there being immaculate ballerinas leaping to and fro dramatically and wowing the audience with their gravity defying leaps or vomit-inducing spins, the choreographer had harnessed a more expressive, flowy style. There weren’t even any tutus. Instead, the dancer’s strong bodies and dancing skills were used to highlight the intense emotional moments of this classic story, so that parts came across as borrowing more from modern dance than Swan Lake. Not to say that there wasn’t plenty of leaping, lifting, and rapid turning, because there certainly was, but the dancers also spent a lot of time close to the ground, poignantly clenching their fists or gazing into each other’s eyes. There was also a whole lot of swordplay. One grouch in the back was heard to exclaim “Too much dancing, not nearly enough prancing!” During that ever so sad moment at the end where Romeo discovers the lifeless body of his lady, he grabbed up her corpse and wrenched it around the stage, at once hugging it close and trying to recreate those moments of ecstatic dancing bliss they had previously shared. Alas, come back to life she did not. It would have been cool if he had done some of those crazy leaps with a corpse in his arms though.
In the end, aside from being fully captivated for those whole three hours, I had also learned the important lesson that ballet doesn’t have to consist entirely of tip-toed strutting and buoyant leaping. I did leave the place with one question though: “Do the male’s tights have to be skin-colored?”