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SARATOGA SPRINGS — The ubiquitous storyline of Romeo and Juliet is recognized by all ages. In the past century alone, the tragedy between the two star-crossed lovers has been shared in several different mediums; by animated garden gnomes in recent memory. Perhaps one of my favorite original productions involved Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes set in a contemporary world where rapiers were replaced with pistols. I had the pleasure of reviewing that Baz Luhrmann film 20 years ago, and find myself reviewing yet another production of the William Shakespeare original, this time featuring the New York City Ballet.
Just as it was foreign for me to hear Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter in Luhrmann’s film uttered by young adults dressed and today’s fashion, there was an equal amount of adjustment required to accept the omission of the Bard’s words entirely.
The audience was quickly able to discern the Capulets, in their fiery shades of red and yellows, from those of the Montagues, clad in earthly tones of green and blue. Certainly a requirement that would be important throughout the rest of the play. Backstory, just in case, the Capulets and Montagues are two families that don’t get along. It’s the Verona equivalent of the Hatfields and McCoys. The feud between these two families escalates when Romeo, the son of Lord and Lady Montague, falls smittened by Juliet, daughter of Lord and Lady Capulet, at a party he and his friends crash. And, so starts the thread.
As a wordsmith, Shakespeare is known for his subtle play on the language. In this production of dance and symphony, the nuance of movement between two dancers is equally as powerful.
On the Thursday matinee performance, principal performers included Lauren Lovette (Juliet) and Anthony Huxley (Mercutio). Mercutio was easy to identify from his first appearance in the opening scene. His pirouettes and tours were appropriate for the flamboyant friend compared to the initially reserved Romeo, played by Peter Walker. Walker’s Romeo was characterized by less pronounced kicks at the beginning of the production. Walker’s movements expanded as the storyline progressed.
Peter Martin’s subtleties are most evident in the movements he choreographed for both Walker’s Romeo and Lovette’s Juliet. As Walker’s moves become more pronounced, you see an equal progression in Juliet. The childish shuffling of her feet at her introduction in the second scene quickly morphs into the confident movements of a woman. Just as in character development, you see the same in the act of storytelling as one sees the Capulets attempt to steer their daughter into the arms of Paris, another suitor. A dance arrangement involving Juliet, her parents, Tybalt and Paris starts with daughter and suitor on opposite ends of a line, with one parent guiding each of their hands under the watchful eye of the antagonist cousin. Through a series of circles, Juliet and Paris are drawn ever closer until they meet, and she swiftly rejects him.
Mercutio’s charismatic side comes to life in the same ballroom scene as Huxley has his character steal away each Capulet woman, while toying and taunting an increasingly agitated Tybalt.
The beauty of the New York City Ballet supplants that of William Shakespeare’s own words in the garden scene under Juliet’s balcony. Though Lovette and Walker are not often paired with one another, seeing Lovette raised and draped over her partner, her character succumbing to the passion budding between the two, stirred emotions Shakespeare’s words could not. The imagery would linger enough to provide a needed punch to the final scene. Though the outcome is expected by all within the audience, the choreography nonetheless is heart wrenching and beautiful.
Lovette was the star of the performance. Juliet’s transformation from child to adult was captured with intense artistry. She put on a dynamic display of fear, passion and agony through both the execution of her steps and dramatic acting.