Drama on Pointe

Ballet Companies Are Busy Acting Up

I keep forgetting I've sworn off ballets based on Romeo and Juliet, preferring my memories of Antony Tudor's exquisite, apparently lost ballet poem and Frederick Ashton's undeservedly abandoned beauty. Last fall, we had Angelin Preljocaj's bleak fascist state. This spring to City Center came Jean-Christophe Maillot's Romeo et Juliette for Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, a company bursting with the necessary hot acting and juicy virtuosity (by way of "hi, everybody!" Benvolio—Rodolphe Lucas—tosses off a zillion pirouettes). Knowing the play may or may not clarify some matters (I thought Paris was Lord Capulet for quite a while). Maillot follows the structure decreed by Prokofiev's music (procession here, romp for the Montague boys there). But there are many novelties, among them a handsome airy set by Ernest Pignon-Ernest of moveable white walls, curtains, and ramps, and the device of presenting the entire plot through the memories of a Friar Lawrence (Gaetan Morlotti) who wears tights and dances anguished—aided by two acolytes who act as his con science. The famously aloof Rosaline becomes an object of desire for every man onstage. A puppet show fore shadows the tragedy, without, however, affecting its course. There's no swordplay; Tybalt (the powerful Francesco Nappa) whacks Mercutio with a stick from the show, and Romeo strangles Tybalt with a blood-stained handkerchief. Mercutio (Maurizio Brudi) is a pugnacious lout, and Juliette (Bernice Coppieters) is, by de sign, the tallest woman onstage. (Why not? Well, but why?)

Coppieters, however, is marvelous, and so is her Romeo, Chris Roelandt. Maillot makes Juliet the bold one. It's she who pulls Romeo toward the bed in a duet that unfolds not in the morning-after dawn, but amid wedding-night heat and grief over Tybalt's death. In the very moving balcony scene, the lovers are like two puppies rolling and tumbling and charging each other, heedless of the future.

A kiss before dying: Roelandt and Coppieters in Maillot’s Romeo et Juliette
Laurent Philippe
A kiss before dying: Roelandt and Coppieters in Maillot’s Romeo et Juliette

Maillot uses ballet and modern dance to achieve the desired mix of showiness and gutty drama. But the steps aren't what you remember; his talent is for the theatrical image, like Juliet strangling herself with the symbolic red ribbon she pulls from Romeo's body, or, her back to us, dropping her bodice to show the unaccountably surprised nurse her breasts.

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