Above: Carla Korbes and Seth Orza as Juliette and Romeo in the Pacific Northwest Ballet's production of ROMEO ET JULIETTE. Production photos by Lindsay Thomas.
Friday February 15, 2013 - Prokofiev's score for ROMEO AND JULIET is great music to be sure, but I've never felt the story translates well into dance. The only really satisfying dancework culled from this tragic love story that I had experienced (before tonight!) is Sean Lavery's lyric and lovely Balcony Scene pas de deux at New York City Ballet. NYCB's Peter Martins production of the entire ballet has plenty of dancing and tells the story clearly but suffers from ugly decor, and ABT's bloated version drags on with too much theatrical emoting and not enough dance.
But production photographs have always made me curious to see Pacific Northwest Ballet's ROMEO ET JULIETTE, a setting of the score by Jean-Christophe Maillot. And now the opportunity has come: PNB are at New York City Center, presenting three performances of ROMEO. The story of how this production came to PNB from Monte Carlo is told in detail in Stephen Manes' book WHERE SNOWFLAKES DANCE AND SWEAR.
The evening was one of the most exciting dance events in recent seasons: the house was packed and the audience seemed keenly attentive throughout the performance, greeting the dancers warmly at the end.
Emil de Cou took the podium - PNB have brought their full orchestra with them - and during the prelude the tone of the production immediately established itself. Like the opening credits of a film, the names of the major players (both crew and cast) flashed onto the scrim. The audience, which included a Seattle contingent who had flown in for the occasion, applauded as the name of each dancer appeared on the screen: Jonathan Porretta's credit (Mercutio) evoked whoops of sheer joy.
The setting is utterly simple: white panels and architectural elements shift silently as we move from one location to another; the lighting is very impressive and the costumes - Act Deco in flavour - gracefully sustain the Hollywood feel without overkill. The Montagues wear white, beige, and Summery shades, and the Capulets are in black or dark colors, making one wonder if they are in mourning: has Lord Capulet passed away? He never appears.
The production is loaded with dance though it's often not in classic-style technique: more contemporary movement elements abound, especially in the hijinx of the Montague boys; and a stylized plastique is adopted for Friar Laurence who narrates the story. There is no swordplay - Mercutio is killed by a blow meant for Romeo, and Romeo in turn strangles Tybalt - and no Duke of Verona to send Romeo into exile. The women are on pointe though appropriately Juliet is barefooted once she's bedded.
Carla Korbes and Seth Orza (above) were simply spectacular as Juliette and her Romeo: aptly gorgeous in the tradition of the great stars of the Silver Screen, they danced superbly and moreover were rapturously expressive of their mutual love. The production demands intense, intimate physicality from the two protagonists as well as sustained kissing. Carla and Seth transcended theatricality with a chemistry that gave the narrative a passionate heart.
William Lin-Yee who - like Carla and Seth - came to PNB by way of the New York City Ballet - was a youthful Friar Laurence. His lithe, elegant frame moved with hypnotic grace thru the action, with bursts of dancing sometimes breaking his prayer-like stance and gestures. The Friar in this production is a man filled with remorse over his well-intentioned - but in the end fatal - handling of the situation in which the two young lovers have sought his guidance. In a duet with Juliet as she takes the potion, William's facial acting and the intensity of his eye contact with Carla were powerful to behold. His lyrical wing-span and expressive hands served the gestural language of the choreographer's concept - at once tragic and poetic - beautifully all evening.
Bakthurel Bold and Jonathan Porretta (above) were ideally cast as the opposing forces at the forefront of this family feud. Bold's handsome, smouldering Tybalt was sick to death of Jonathan/Mercutio's endlessly prankish behavior and his fuck-you provocations. Things were bound to erupt and they did, dooming the possibility that the love of Romeo and Juliette might put an end to the strife. Bold and Porretta danced superbly and flung themselves into the physical demands of the production with tremendous flair.
Benjamin Griffiths was perfect as Mercutio's boysih sidekick Benvolio. Rachel Foster was a fabulous Nurse - a major role in this production - allowing herself to be manhandled and, in fact, enjoying it. Laura Gilbreath was a vividly attractive 'black widow' of a Lady Capulet and Maria Chapman a dishy, enticing Rosaline (another role amplified in Maillot's concept). Andrew Bartee and Jerome Tisserand excelled as Friar Laurence's handsome acolytes and Joshua Grant was a very tall and impressive Paris - and was there a hint that he could have been as happy with the mother as with the daughter?
Overall the production works wondrously well, perhaps in part because - although the story is old and steeped in tradition - the score is very 20th century. Maillot's musicality responds so well to the Prokofiev music, and both the dancers and the musicians do it full justice.
So, a thoroughly successful evening in every regard and now we must hope that Pacific Northwest Ballet will be back in Gotham sooner rather than later. An annnual visit, bringing more of their diverse repertoire, would be ideal. Of course the expense of such journeys would be daunting, but perhaps angels still exist who could make it happen.
Roméo et Juliette
Music: Sergei Prokofiev (Op. 64, 1935-1936)
Choreography: Jean-Christophe Maillot
Staging: Gaby Baars, Bernice Coppieters, and Giovanna Lorenzoni
Conductor: Emil de Cou
Juliet: Carla Körbes
Romeo: Seth Orza
Friar Laurence: William Lin-Yee
Mercutio: Jonathan Porretta
Tybalt: Batkhurel Bold
Lady Capulet: Laura Gilbreath
The Nurse: Rachel Foster
Benvolio: Benjamin Griffiths
Paris: Joshua Grant
Rosaline: Maria Chapman