Bourrée Girl

What say you to . . . Thursday?

Posted in American Ballet Theatre, Classical ballet by bourreegirl on July 8, 2010

Four performances already! If I’m not dismissive, I’ll never get this done.

Tuesday night

David Hallberg and Gillian Murphy (photo by Rosalie O'Connor)

Gillian Murphy made a very believable teenage girl, with a dear, expressive face that I could all too easily imagine sporting braces. I don’t know about Renaissance Verona, but her sweet, gawky demeanor seemed perfectly appropriate for my own high school. Her Romeo, David Hallberg, looked like the ballet prince who had come to her party. Her modesty and skittishness made sense; when she dropped these protections to fling herself into Hallberg’s arms, though, it didn’t make a pretty picture. I can’t quite buy them as a pair, she rough and he smooth.

Wednesday night

Herman Cornejo and Xiomara Reyes (© Gene Schiavone)

See Reyes and Cornejo in Don Quixote or The Sleeping Beauty. This probably doesn’t do them justice, but I was on my second R&J of the day, standing as far from the stage as you can be and still be in the audience, and none of my favorite bits seemed well considered or well rehearsed. Props to Carlos Lopez as Mercutio.

People, it’s all about the Wednesday matinee. The exquisite Hee Seo

Hee Seo (company head shot)

was promoted to soloist just in time to dance Juliet this afternoon with Cory Stearns. (Last year, when they debuted in these roles, he was the new soloist and she was still in the corps.) Go ahead and promote her to principal, I say. The girl’s already made Juliet her own.

Both Seo and Stearns progressed through ABT’s studio company to apprentice and corps contracts with the main company, and both are solidly up to the technical demands of this ballet. They are also appealingly youthful. (When the three harlots tease Romeo in the marketplace, it’s as if his youth has made him a pet of theirs, in contrast to the usual and rather disturbing impression that he’s a favorite customer.)

Cory Stearns and Hee Seo

Despite his long, clean lines and ample elevation, Stearns doesn’t look like Nijinsky or Count Albrecht; he looks like a good kid in love who wants things to come out well for everyone and harbors a stubborn faith that they can. But his Romeo isn’t simple, or simply conceived. No other Romeo this week has approached the spontaneous-looking grace with which Stearns averts his unmasked face from Tybalt at the ball, or has managed to suggest, when he then crosses the room to speak to Juliet, that he pauses because Tybalt is moving to intercept him. Tybalt isn’t, but I believe he used to, in older productions, and when he doesn’t, Romeo’s pause looks uncalled for. Stearns seems to respond subtly to the malevolence Tybalt is directing at the back of his head, and actually makes the moment work. The time he takes deciding to pick up his sword and fight after Mercutio’s death adds poignancy to the scene; as he absorbs the truth of a world harsher than he’d realized, Romeo needs a moment to become a person who can kill.

Seo, too, brings a wealth of intelligent shading to her role. I love the perfect seriousness of her face when she first sees Romeo, as if she knows that what is happening is truly grave. This isn’t just some hot guy; this is her destiny, which has come to take her away from everything she knows, and she meets it, daring it to blink. (This video shows David Hallberg explaining that he’s been coached against his own nature not to take the first encounter with Juliet so seriously. I was sorry to see that. What, pray, might Romeo value above what’s happening in that ballroom? Go with it, David; it’s your Romeo, not anyone else’s.) At the point in Act III when harassed Juliets usually press their hands to their ears to shut out their family’s demands, Seo lets the crescendo come and go before bringing her hands slowly to her head, in a way that lets you know she’s holding herself together more than she’s shutting anything out. Her Juliet is both self-controlled and self-possessed, and fights to remain so. The inner strength she draws on blazes forth when she runs upstage left, toward the window where Romeo made his escape, and wheels immediately and fiercely on Paris. He’ll never take her. Yet, earlier in the same act, Seo rose from her wedding bed still shimmering with the vulnerability of a young girl, though one now pledged and consecrated. She retains a habit of letting a gesture linger in space with special significance—but where she once hoped to prolong the feeling of Romeo’s first touch, she now holds her breath to preserve what could be his last.

I could go on. Seo’s characterization, though distinct from the one I loved on Monday, is as rich, as sympathetic, and as wondrous. But before I do, shall I spare a word for Craig Salstein, the Mercutio who so far has filled the choreography with the most character and accomplished it with technical brilliance? And for Frederic Franklin, at ninety-six the saintliest Friar Laurence you’ll ever see? Good.

In the last minute of the ballet, Seo lifts her head from Romeo’s body and opens her mouth to let out a silent wail. It’s in the choreography, they all do it, but I have never before had to cover my face and go and stand in the corner so I could try to get ahold of myself. You would have, too—unless you’d slipped out to catch a train. Before the performance, a subscriber had complained to me that the Wednesday matinee audience had again been denied a cast with big-name principals. Instead, they got better than they could have hoped for, and it was the tepid afternoon audience that cheated a first-class cast of their full quotient of ecstatic curtain calls. Anyone who left this performance for any reason before the last smatterings of applause is not only unlucky but despicable and beyond help. Just saying.

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One Response

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  1. Matthew Rusk said, on August 26, 2010 at 12:06 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I saw Hee Seo as Juliet last year (her Met debut) and was just floored — she gave one of the greatest performances I have ever seen. Why she isn’t a principal is beyond me.


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