Bourrée Girl

First night: Juliet is the sun.

Posted in American Ballet Theatre, Classical ballet by bourreegirl on July 6, 2010
Photo courtesy DanceWorld.com

Julie as Juliet (photo courtesy DanceWorld.com)

For the last week of American Ballet Theatre’s summer season at the Met, I’m going to try a different approach to writing about their full-length classics.

With The Sleeping Beauty in mid June, I felt the production’s deficiencies compared to the Beauty I’d been taught as a young dancer, and pondered the prejudices formed by experience. I tried to order archival footage of the one I remembered but was blown off. (If you have a tape of “Hop o’ My Thumb” at the studio tea circa 1989, don’t worry, I know you wouldn’t blow me off and I didn’t mean that one.) I ordered other research materials—academic studies, like Tim Scholl’s “Sleeping Beauty”: A Legend in Progress—but all that’s arrived so far is The Sleeping Beauty as salacious novel, by Adrienne Sharp (dancers, drugs, and self-destruction). I noted my favorite first-act Auroras (Wiles—surprise!—and Cojocaru), third-act Auroras (Reyes—surprised?—and Cojocaru), and Lilac Fairies (Abrera—for once—and Wiles), and the way Marcelo Gomes as the prince made the precious fairy tale into a shockingly vital drama. Then I didn’t write anything.

Swan Lake kept me up at night. It seems to me the ballet most prone to seepage; that is, its mythic, cultural, and most of all musical power allow it to penetrate you with only casual exposure: certainly without your having ever had to dance it yourself. Music boxes, records, piano arrangements for ballet class, live performances, videos and films work on you until Swan Lake becomes yours, and you are its. It needn’t be your favorite ballet, but it comes to signify all ballet. The last thing I wanted to do when I got home from the theater with swan music pumping through my veins and David Hallberg’s princely anguish replaying in my mind was sit down and write. There was no choice in the end but to take my mutinous hips and traitorous knee to ballet class. Then I felt better, and didn’t write anything.

This week it’s all Romeo and Juliet, by Prokofiev and Kenneth MacMillan, and I thought I might just write a short nightly comment as we go along. We all know the story, it doesn’t take you back into the tangled wilds of archetype, and why bide your time hoping to form some grand, definitive summing-up (and dropping the whole thing by the end of the week) if you have something to say on the very first night? Namely: as far as I’m concerned Julie Kent can dance this role any time she likes. (Seventeen years after her debut in the role, this is surely a comfort to her.)

It’s not, or not mostly—although this is nice—because when she stands dreaming on the balcony she resembles a Brancusi come to life. She also has a thrilling moment with Romeo’s discarded poison bottle, checking it for friendly drops as Shakespeare suggested but MacMillan’s production doesn’t usually show. But every moment of her interpretation glows with a radiance that softly obscures any less incandescent beings. Kent embodies Juliet completely, makes us love with her, breathe with her, believe that she is speaking for us—yet despite this intimacy we’re on the edge of our seats to see what she’s going to do. She is more beautiful than Juliet could possibly have been, and we don’t hate her for it, but wonder how anyone might have conceived of a Juliet without long curving feet in pink satin pointes.

Yes, it is of course the ballerina’s job to make us feel this way. Yet, if we are honest, we cannot count on transcendence at the ballet, the theater, the concert hall. The artists work for it, we hope for it—but it’s a blessing, remarkable each time, if we find it. ABT offers seven more chances at it this week.

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