Times Music/Dance Critic

Re-creating a 20-year-old British masterpiece, the American company resorts to bland imitation.

Some people prefer the historic melodrama of Lavrovsky, the gentle lyricism of Ashton or the dancerly stylization of Cranko. For this collector of "Romeo and Juliets," however, Kenneth MacMillan said the last word.

He said it 20 years ago in London, with appreciative nods toward all three choreographic predecessors, and a nod in the direction of Franco Zeffirelli too. He said it in a big, sprawling, silent-opera ballet that irrevocably fused dance with drama. The Royal Ballet "Romeo," especially as enacted by Christopher Gable and Lynn Seymour, used the mighty Prokofiev score to ignite the stage with credible, overwhelming passions.

Prettiness for its own sake had no place in this "Romeo." The great ensemble pieces and pas de deux and caractere divertissements sprang directly from the Shakespearean action. Nothing was embellished. Nothing was separated. Nothing was formalized.

Virtuosity was required, of course. But it was required in the motivation of the characters and the illumination of their conflicts.

MacMillan's critics complained that all the Veronese verismo in this "Romeo" smothered the dancing. They couldn't see the choreography for all the fighting and milling and flirting and playing in the streets. Pity.

MacMillan may have deprived his protagonists of fouette orgies and variations designed to dazzle the folks in the balcony. He may not have created a step for every beat of the music. More important, however, he did make poignant, palpable sense of the crisis of the star-cross'd lovers.

Now he has brought his production to American Ballet Theatre. The semi-stylized decors of Nicholas Georgiadis, sensitively lit by Thomas Skelton, still exude earthy Renaissance splendor. MacMillan's concept, virtually unchanged in two decades, retains its logic and urgency, its poise and poetry. Prokofiev's music, even in a muted and untidy performance under Paul Connelly, continues to exert its sweet-and-sour pathos. Something has been lost, however, in translation.

Wednesday at Shrine Auditorium, a resourceful cast worked hard, and sometimes successfully, to approximate the original impulses. The problem lies in the verb. For better or worse, this had to be an approximation.

Ballet Theatre cannot re-create the work of another set of artists and temperaments in another time and place. Nor can Ballet Theatre remake this "Romeo" in its own image. Instead, the company must resort to enlightened imitation. Consequently, the ballet loses its vitality and threatens to become a museum piece.

The problems began at the top on Wednesday. Fernando Bujones and Marianna Tcherkassky, the first in a parade of couples undertaking the title roles, are marvelous dancers. He is a dashing firebrand, a handsome virtuoso, a conscientious stylist. She is lovely, an impeccable technician, an admirable presence.

Bujones' Romeo flashes all-purpose bravado and all-purpose ardor, non-stop. Tcherkassky's Juliet exudes generalized vulnerability, generalized radiance, generalized grief. He is an amiable extrovert; she a demure introvert.

The details of glance, stance and gesture that lend special poignancy to a characterization remain elusive. Both do everything that is asked of them. Yet neither is really magnetic.

Both do everything right. These are not sweet kids from the Joffrey. These are mature, high-class, prime-time dancers. Yet neither makes the admiring observer want to cry. There is little heroism here, little stormy impetuosity, little ethereal languor and little tragedy.

The supporting cast also tends toward the dutiful. Although Danilo Radojevic, who has inherited the Mandolin Dance along with Mercutio's fatal mockery, is lithe, charming and eminently boyish, he lacks the authority and the insinuating bravado with which a David Blair could dominate the stage. Ron Tice makes a snarling bully of Tybalt, Wes Chapman a cipher of Benvolio.

Kathleen Moore offers an overtly padded Nurse with a sweet, mail-order smile. Magali Messac's nobly hysterical Lady Capulet represents luxury casting, and John Taras, now associate director of the company, strikes eloquent poses in cameo appearances as Escalus and Friar Laurence. The three white-faced harlots--Elaine Kudo, Carolyn Brown and Alina Hernandez--seem hearty but too wholesome.

With genuinely riveting protagonists, this "Romeo" still could have consolidated its virtues and found its proper focus. Wherefore art thou, Mikhail? Wherefore art thou, Gelsey?

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World