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Damion Sanders
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New York City Ballet - Romeo + Juliet - a world without words

by Damion Sanders
January 15, 2008
Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.
140 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023

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Also see Taylor Gordon's review of Romeo+Juliet
New York City Ballet's 2008 production of Romeo + Juliet retains all the majesty William Shakespeare intended in a form of articulation he could have never suspected. It would be a safe estimation that the plot of Romeo and Juliet did not take a single audience member by surprise. What was a bit surprising was the cast and orchestra members' ability to tell this tale fluently, although, in a manner of speaking, with their voices tied.

Act I starts dark and looming as the stage curtain lifts. The orchestra loans tangibility to the setting, the lights brighten slowly. Romeo and kinsmen, Mercutio and Benvolio, take the stage without hesitation. Shortly thereafter, there is a wealth of Montagues arrayed in green, as Romeo and his cohorts perform their entrechats. The orchestra along with a playful piano facilitates a feeling of youth. Romeo (Sean Suozzi) has such dexterous legs that they appear to be moving with the grace, control and timing with which one moves one's fingers. The Capulets enter shortly after. With the exception of Tybalt in yellow, red is their central color. The director briefly uses the convention of having the Montagues and Capulets walk to and fro like a progressing and receding tide of rich greens and decadent reds to portray the ensuing struggle.

Meanwhile, nimble Juliet Capulet sails through the air and performs her pas de chats, playfully evading and giving a hard time to the older, less dexterous nurse who is helping her prepare for the masquerade ball. The skillful Juliet (Kathryn Morgan) glides across the stage performing variations on Pointe so expertly that her feet appear as snowflakes falling in rapid yet graceful successions on the stage. The beautiful Juliet's youth is exhibited in her well-executed pirouettes and phenomenal poise: she is literally treading the stage so lightly and so in sync with the accompanying pianist it seems as if she is skipping along on the keys of a Steinway.

The castle, the one focal point on the stage besides the scores of adroit dancers is sectioned and manipulated to move in a way that it expands and contracts to facilitate a setting of great depth and dimensions. At the masquerade ball the costumes were ornate and beautiful but not over the top as such you would expect to see at a masquerade ball. This was a skillful decision on behalf of the costume department. Because with the absence of words even in a story as timeless and well known as this one, attention must not be sacrificed.

The stage was decked with dancers donned in embroidered capes and cloaks. There were brilliant tones of teal and turquoise and orange, shades of vivacious greens and red lustrous velvet.

When the parents of Juliet (lord and lady Capulet) appear on stage they are met by the orchestra with somber and heavy trombone, tuba and bass notes. We hear a few playful strings now and again but are given enough foreboding instruments to help us associate them (without dialogue or dance) with the strong disapproval that is key in the two star-crossed lover's undoing.

The love expressed by Romeo and Juliet while dancing out the balcony scene speaks volumes though not a sound is uttered. Their body movement is so concurrent and succinct that their commitment one to the other was evident in their body language.

In Act II, after the clandestine marriage and the slaying of Tybalt by Romeo out of vengeance for the slaying of Mercutio, Romeo is banished. After spending a forbidden and passionate night with her new husband, the sun has arisen and Romeo must flee. Juliet must come to terms with the fact that he has been banished for murder. Grief stricken Juliet is assisted in tugging the hearts strings of the audience with some help from the violinists whom are masterful at literally tugging strings.

After the tragedy signature to this epic tale unfolds, the curtain falls, the cast and orchestra members take their bow and the audience erupts with applause. We have been beaten about the head, face and neck with the story of Romeo and Juliet over the years in many forms, and yet this production was able to give us something new. We watch the same forbidden love unfold for the umpteenth time, but this time we are whisked away to experience one of the greatest writings ever by one of the greatest writers ever in a world without words.
Kathryn Morgan as Juliet in Peter Martins' Romeo + Juliet

Kathryn Morgan as Juliet in Peter Martins' Romeo + Juliet

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik

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