.…topped all other ballet programs this season…
Dance Review: ‘Romeo and Juliet’ performed by American Ballet Theatre at the Kennedy Center
ABT enthralls once again in a grandly staged production.
American Ballet Theatre’s opening night of “Romeo and Juliet” at the Kennedy Center Opera House topped all other ballet programs this season, though the Ukrainian National Ballet’s “Giselle” was a close second. It was one of those nights where everything came togethe—ABT Principal dancers, Aran Bell (Romeo) and Devon Teuscher (Juliet) performed their parts flawlessly and the Prokofiev score was powerful at times and sweet when needed.
We came out humming the theme of the ballet, first heard at the Capulet masked ball with those spectacular dance promenades, flirty duets and various trios, including three hussies plus Romeo and his buddies Mercutio (Carlos Gonzalez) and Benvolio (Joseph Gorak) who caused havoc. I can still hear the music in my head as I write this review. I’ll never forget the three men out-dancing each other with multiple attitude turns (one foot is bent in the back while the other jumps or lowers in a pile as the body makes a full turn), high-flying leaps, and acrobatic tricks. Another delightful moment took place as Romeo was seducing Rosaline (ABT Soloist Katherine Williams from Columbia, MD), and was shushed away as Juliet entered the ball.
Kenneth MacMillan’s production of Sergei Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” was first danced in 1965, but don’t call it a “warhorse ballet.” Now, nearly 60 years later, the Kennedy Center opening performance remains fresh and lively. Even the tale of a teenage girl who makes fearless decisions—among them, refusing her parents’ choice for husband; marrying Romeo in secret; taking a mysterious potion that would make her appear dead, though sleeping; and joining Romeo in death—seems timely. The sets and costumes, too, look like them came off a contemporary fashion magazine. Designer Nicholas Georgiadis deserves praise for the scenery and costumes. He chose blood red for the Capulet clan and golden bronze for the Montagues. A colorful, moveable scrim depicts the wall to Juliet’s bedroom and other locations where the dancing take place—the ballroom, the outside market place, and the crypt decorated with gargoyles and angels.
One of the issues with mounting this three act ballet was co-ordinating the music with the dance, a problem for a choreographer in any company. Prokofiev’s score is magisterial, yet at times over-whelming, and one worries if the dancing can match the music. Under the watchful eye of conductor David LaMarche, musicians in the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra kept the dancers at a brisk pace and never wavered from carrying the story forward. At times, the conductor was bouncing at his podium, almost dancing steps from the ballet. There was one magical scene where Juliet walks backwards on pointe and bumps into Paris, the man her parents chose to marry her. At that exact moment, a bang from the bass drum occurred, again a sign of how the musicians were so tuned into the dancing.
Note that Kenneth MacMillan was assisted in the original staging of “Romeo and Juliet” for American Ballet Theatre by Monica Parker when it entered the ABT repertory on January 3, 1985 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
In this ballet, the litmus test for ballet takes place in the balcony scene where the star-crossed lovers pledge their devotion in a pas de deux that matches any of the classical dances we’ve come to love. Dressed in clinging lingerie, Juliet almost floats across the garden below her bedroom balcony, as Romeo carries her in one arm and gently lowers her with the other. These two looked so young and carefree—exploding with the feeling of first true love, one wonders how they pulled it off…probably because these two dancers are young. Aran Bell (Romeo) is a Maryland native from Bethesda. Devon Teuscher hails from Vermont.
As Juliet, Teuscher dashes through her family parties, makes faces at her cousin, and dances like a young woman not afraid to show emotions. An especially loving scene takes place in the first act when Juliet seeks refuge under her nurse’s flowing dress. Nurse (Susan Jones), a warm and sympathetic character, stole a few scenes in the show with her tenderness towards her young charge.
Nothing changes in this ending, but it should be mentioned that Juliet looks so frail and fragile as she lay on the crypt in the family mausoleum. In the final pas de deux, Romeo and Juliet look like zombies as they skim across the stage embraced. By curtain call the two had re-gained their balletic posture and accepted the applause and flowers with genuine warmth and appreciation.
Running Time: Three hours with two short intermissions.
“Romeo and Juliet,” by American Ballet Theatre with different casts, runs through February 19, 2023 at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House, 2700 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets, call the box office at 202-467-4600 or toll-free 800-444-1324, or purchase them online.