Times Dance Writer

Two of last year's best American Ballet Theatre Juliets danced with new Romeos over the weekend in Shrine Auditorium--Romeos who didn't match them in distinction, but who still complemented them better than their partners of 1985.

Friday, Leslie Browne's memorably sophisticated and neurotic Juliet--very much a child of power--blossomed under the steady, adoring gaze of Ross Stretton's Romeo. Normally a diffident-to-glacial cavalier, Stretton responded to the role's demanding allegro choreography with dancing even more mercurial than that of Gil Bogg's antic, flyweight Mercutio.

Stretton proved as reliable a partner as always, but he fell prey to his old dancing-class rectitude in the balcony scene solos. Otherwise this was a breakthrough performance: warm and involving.

Among the other cast members new to their roles this season, Michael Owen made Tybalt into a mindless thug, Robert Hill danced Paris with a steely elegance and Eric Weichardt executed most of Lord Capulet's stage business as if preoccupied. As a coltish, ingratiating Benvolio, 24-year-old corps member John Turjoman made a down payment on his own performance of Romeo the next afternoon. Paul Connelly conducted.

At the Saturday matinee, Juliet was the remarkably delicate, innocent, lyrically pristine Amanda McKerrow--or should it now be McKerrova in light of the brooding Natasha-isms newly grafted onto her performance in Act III?

Turjoman overplayed boyish sweetness to near-inanity and underdanced the major ballroom and marketplace solos, rising to the occasion only in the balcony and bedroom scenes, where suddenly he reached McKerrow's level: intense solo dancing that never lost its admirable technical clarity.

His partnering never looked easy, and his Romeo never grew in depth or understanding as a character, but the unstinting emotion and fearless dance-attacks Turjoman brought to the role seemed preferable to the empty glamour and devitalized smoothness of McKerrow's previous L.A. Romeo.

In his debut as Benvolio, John Gardner had the jokey byplay but not yet all the spiky legwork. Kathleen Moore wore the padded mantle of the Nurse with practiced, low-key amiability. Anna Spelman became acccident-prone in Lady Capulet's agonies over Tybalt's corpse. David Richardson artfully used different levels of tension to distinguish his Escalus from his Friar Laurence, and Owen played Paris so much like Lord Capulet that you could see exactly why Juliet was forced to marry him.

Way ahead of all of them was Johan Renvall as Mercutio: a relaxed and even offhand performance that somehow left all the role's virtuosic tests of technique looking like mere warm-up exercises. Jack Everly conducted.

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