New York City Ballet
Romeo + Juliet
New York, David H. Koch Theater
13 February 2015
It is the greatest of ironies that the world’s most famous love story ends in a double suicide. Despite the carnage, New York City Ballet scheduled Romeo + Juliet for Valentine’s Day weekend, making opening night Friday the 13th, and it worked – the Koch was packed with nuzzling couples, dressed to the nines and conducting flagrant public displays of affection.
Like many productions, Martins sets the Shakespearean tragedy to Prokofiev’s inescapable score, but trims the standard three acts down to two, which in many respects shouldn’t do the ballet any major disservice, as the story is so well known. What is interesting is that despite Martins’ truncated take, this is not a “high concentrate” version, and vast swathes of the production lag.
Taking a minimalist approach, the sets are austere but for some abstract expressionist scratchings on the backdrop and costumes – the latter taking on a garish, radioactive primary palette. The main structure is a simple box of a castle – which also serves as the chapel and the tomb – in front of a blood red backdrop. Some of the costumes are truly unfortunate, with half of the corps in bright green camouflage dresses.
Sterling Hyltin was a flitty, gleeful and delicate Juliet on opening night, with a hunky Robert Fairchild as her Romeo. But the male dancer who really stole the show was Joaquin De Luz as Tybalt. Dark, swarthy and with just a slice of a goatee, De Luz looks more like an agile football (i.e. soccer) player who just so happens to be an exceptional danseur. While all the men are supposed to insult, cut, jab and stab each other, only De Luz did it with the conviction and anger of a cocky, pride-hungry man. His every move is chiseled, with the sharpest sword fighting and the fleetest of feet.
Daniel Ulbricht is a feisty Mercutio – his fifths tight, his leaps light – but Martins’ staging of his death lacks the sensitive complexity his character deserves. The big fencing sequence suffers a slump of energy smack in the middle. The dancers look lost, lunging sleepily at each other when the story (and music) calls for ruthless slaughter. Things pick up when Prokofiev brings back the main halting theme, but it’s a shame the momentum was lost.
The balcony pas de deux, what all the paramours have come to see, is decent. There are the sweeping, leg splitting lifts, drippy back drapes (so much so that Hyltin at times looks dead), and romantic clutches in abundance. But his pas is mostly in keeping with Balanchine style, and when Prokofiev’s winds take on the sound of a thousand birds announcing the coming dawn, Romeo partners Juliet in hops en pointe in arabesque before she flies away. It is an all too brief, deeply musical cadence of which there should have been more. During an awkward penchee arabesque promenade, Hyltin looked like she might actually fall – and not in a stylish way.
Hyltin chose an abrupt end, barely considering her demise before giving herself a quick puncture to her abdomen and all her girlishness was gone. It was a swift punch to the gut that communicated the shocking suddenness of suicide.
Hyltin and Fairchild put out plenty of emotion, but the overall result is fairly textbook, but it’s not necessarily their fault. Time isn’t really made for mime in this version, although there seems to be plenty of bars dedicated to parading courtiers. With such a short take, one would think the pomp would get cut, or at least streamlined. I’ve never seen so many people check their phones during a performance before, let alone with such frequency. Yes manners have declined, but if one wants to be utterly swept away by Shakespeare’s most famous love (and war) story, they may have to look elsewhere.