Romeo and Juliet
American Ballet Theatre
Grand Theatre, HK Cultural Centre
Reviewed: Feb 27 and 28
One of the greatest ballet scores ever composed, Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet has inspired dozens of productions from different choreographers. For many, the definitive version is the one created by Sir Kenneth MacMillan for Britain's Royal Ballet in 1965, which strikes the ideal balance between theatre and dance, action and romance. The story is clearly told, the characters vividly etched and the choreography responds to the score with flawless musicality.
MacMillan re-staged the ballet for the American Ballet Theatre in 1985 and, while not quite on a par with the Royal Ballet's authoritative rendering, this work, which officially opened this year's Hong Kong Arts Festival, has much to offer.
The first-night performance didn't come together in act one but improved as it went on, although the interplay of the supporting characters never really gelled. The next night was much tighter.
Ultimately the ballet stands or falls by Romeo and Juliet, roles which have become a benchmark for generations of dancers in the same way as the leads in Swan Lake or Giselle.
On the first night, Hee Seo made a gentle, touching Juliet. Her interpretation was intelligent and her dancing was distinguished by exquisite feet and the melting fluidity this role demanded. Her Romeo was Roberto Bolle, whose magnificent partnering made it hard to believe Seo had stepped in at the last minute for an injured Julie Kent, the company's senior ballerina. Both gave fine performances.
The second night saw an extraordinary performance from two great dancers at the height of their powers: Marcelo Gomes and Polina Semionova. Whether in the pas de deux or the fight scenes, Gomes' dancing had a speed, power and attack that was breathtaking, with spectacular jumps and turns, beautiful finishing and effortless partnering. His warm, charismatic stage presence completed a portrayal which must rank among the finest the role has seen.
Semionova matched him with dazzling dancing of exceptional dramatic power and passion - her desperation when Romeo flees Verona and her defiance of her parents were devastating.
Among the supporting cast, Craig Salstein and Arron Scott pulled out the virtuoso stops as Mercutio, Daniil Simkin as Benvolio showed exactly how the choreography should be danced and Stella Abrera was a striking Lady Capulet.
Given all this, it was unfortunate the Hong Kong Sinfonietta was inexplicably off-form after good performances in the previous programmes. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, wrong notes in one performance may be regarded as a misfortune, wrong notes two performances running looks remarkably like carelessness.