I hope no one takes the above title the wrong way — I’m totally joking, and trying to make light of out that earlier tiff on this blog I do actually think there are different styles, aesthetics, even theater etiquette as Kristin Sloan called it (which I’ll get to soon) between the fans of American Ballet Theater and New York City Ballet, which had its opening night gala dinner tonight and the official premiere of NYCB artistic director Peter Martins’s new version of Romeo and Juliet.
Since it was a nice day out, I arrived a bit early so as to relax at the Lincoln Center fountain and perhaps take some pictures. Last year, I saw Angel Corella out front on this gala evening kind of smiling out at the crowds and looking all handsome, so I figured I might see “someone” again
Sure enough, red carpet was rolled, Peter Martins and ensemble arrived, paparazzi power cameras began flashing away, and anyone who happened to be anywhere on the plaza at that time promptly made a mad dash toward the State Theater entrance.
Here is Martins with a young girl, I assume his granddaughter? (Late edit: I now know this is his daughter, Talicia. Thanks to everyone who emailed me, posted a comment, and replied to my post on the Winger message board for correcting me Sorry about that!)
Anyway, I, apparently being one of the biggest celebrity whores, managed to make my way to the front of the railed-off section. Passersby began crowding around, whipping out cell phones, asking excitedly, “who’s that, who’s that?”
“Peter Martins.” I said. The woman next to me looked quizzical. “The New York City Ballet artistic director whose Romeo and Juliet is premiering tonight,” I said.
“Oh, I’m an ABT fan; I’m going to the opera tonight. I saw all the commotion. Are there any famous people here?”
“I don’t know, I think it’s just the gala attendees and City Ballet people,” I said.
“Leonardo, has Leonardo come yet?!” a woman shrieked, running up from behind.
“Leonardo who, diCaprio?” the first woman screamed.
“My daughter said he’d be here. I’m an ABT fan; I’m going to the opera tonight, but my daughter told me Leonardo was going to be here and to be sure to get a picture. Oooh, if I missed him, she’ll kill me,” she said dismally.
“Leonardo diCaprio?!” a guy said running over. “I have to get to the opera, when does this thing start?”
“I dunno, I’m an ABT fan; I’m going to the opera,” said yet another voice.
“The ballet starts at 7:30,” I said.
“Oh good,” they all said in unison.
“Well then, all the famous people will have to get here by about 7:20 then,” the guy said assuredly.
Cameras began flashing.
“Oooh, ooh, who is it, who is it??”
“I don’t know. It’s not Leonardo, but it’s looks like someone famous.”
And for the next half hour, it continued like this. A paparazzi camera would flash, everyone would get their cell phones or digitals ready and ask who is it, who is it, oooh, that’s someone, I don’t know who, but they look famous, or I know them from some show just can’t remember which…
Good lord. Anyway, I can’t make too much fun of these people, seeing as how I was one of them and all :), so let the celebrity fest begin:
Actress Elizabeth Berkeley. Funny everyone knew her as “that girl from Saved By the Bell,” or “that girl from, oh what was it, that TV show about the high school kids?…” No one remembered that she was in Showgirls!!!
Artist Anh Duong.
Actress Anna Paquin, in the white dress.
Two young ladies no one knew, but everyone agreed “looked famous.” Does anyone know who they are?
By far the biggest, hugest, most important celebrity of all, Kristin Sloan!!! Here operating her enormous camera, likely for her latest project…
Kristin and her boyfriend, Doug Jaeger, who caught my eye, or my camera pointed directly at him rather(!), and had Kristin turn her camera on me… I have no idea what that one’s going to look like … yikes!
This girl in the red dress — gorgeous dress by the way — was apparently an actress from young adult films … someone mentioned “Ice Princess”??? If anyone would like to clue me in, I’d be grateful!
“Well, I have to get to the opera,” the Leonardo woman said around 7:20. “Yeah, me too,” another man said. “I guess he already went in,” she said sadly. “Well, it’s still good I came to see this; I need to know what to wear if I decide to go to ABT’s gala. They’re my favorite,” she blushed.
“Me too,” I said.
“Oh really? I wonder who all will be there!” she said, excitement returning.
Anyway, 7:25 rolled around and I figured I’d better go in and get my seat — I was sitting all the way up in the 4th Ring so it’d take me a while.
Before the show began, Martins took the stage and gave a little talk mentioning that this season marked the centennial of Lincoln Kirstein‘s birth. He then pointed out an audience celebrity, Bill Clinton! It took a while before I spotted him; he occupied a center seat in the first ring, the seat, Martins noted that had belonged to Lincoln Kirstein. Martins told Clinton whenever he wished to attend the ballet, he need only phone him and he’d reserve the Kirstein seat especially for him. Everyone applauded. Martins then declared May 1st “Lincoln Kirstein and New York City Ballet Day.”
But far far FAR more important than the former president, in the house was also
He sat in the very first row, sixth seat in from the right aisle — almost the exact same seat where I sit to see him perform
Anyway, the performance:
Well, I’m extremely tired and groggy and I’ll probably have more thoughts later, and I know people will feel differently and I’m not saying I’m right and anyone else is wrong, but my first reaction is: it was pretty and sweet and cute and overall a lovely little ballet. It didn’t take my breath away, it didn’t make me cry, it didn’t move me, it got long in parts, I got bored, with the exception of one scene I was nowhere near the edge of my seat, and with the exception of two dancers — one of whom had a non-dancing part my heart didn’t stutter. I don’t know why people in general go to the ballet — it likely varies for different ballets (full-length story or abstract one-act) and different companies — but the aforesaid reasons are the reasons why I go to see a full-length story ballet, and this didn’t do it for me. The balcony scene, which ended the first act (there were only two; one intermission), was very pretty. Juliet’s dress was lovely, much shorter and sweeter than the gown worn by ABT ballerinas — ABT should trim that gown; this one was far more beautiful! The choreography was sweet and lovely with several pretty lifts of the kind I’ve seem umpteenth times before — nothing out of the ordinary, nothing original, nothing striking. No MacMillan’s ‘let me run toward you at maximum speed, dear, and hurl myself at you whilst turning and you catch me and throw me up over your head feet first’ lifts that to me is what makes the balcony pas de deux so thrilling, so magnificent, so emotionally compelling, and by far my favorite pdd of all.
The only scene that had me on the edge of my seat was the beginning of the second act, the sword fight in which Tybalt slays Mercutio, then Romeo slays Tybalt and the reason for that is that the dancers were top quality. When I first sat down in my seat, I have to admit I pulled out my binoculars and began searching the floor for Marcelo since I’d just seen him in the lobby (sorry no pictures — I’m too shy to approach and didn’t want to be a bad fan and take pics of him unaware), and when I found him I began fixating So, when the lights went down and the curtain up, I hadn’t yet looked at my program. When I first saw Tybalt I was mesmerized — I loved Daniel Ulbright‘s Mercutio too most definitely, but there was something about Tybalt that just blew me away. I couldn’t figure out who he was. Joaquin de Luz happens to be my favorite dancer in the company but he was wearing facial hair and his hair was shorter or gelled back and I didn’t recognize him, and didn’t know it was Joaquin until I later looked at the program. So, I WAS NOT sitting there thinking “where’s Joaquin, oh I can’t wait to see Joaquin;” he captivated me nonetheless.
I was also blown away by Jock Soto, one of the most illustrious NYCB dancers of the past who recently retired, who played the non-dancing part of Lord Capulet. I already knew he was going to play that part and when he and Darci Kistler, as Lady Capulet, emerged onstage, I went to clap then realized no one else was and if my hands met I’d make an enormous commotion. What’s wrong with people, I thought, do they not know who he is? I ran into Kristin during intermission and mentioned it to her, and she laughed and said, “No people don’t do that here, that’s ABT. It’s a different audience etiquette.” Even if I wouldn’t have known Jock was Jock, he had so much physical presence and power, he commanded your attention so, I just couldn’t take my eyes off him.
Anyway, I do think Kristin’s “different audience etiquette” was a great way of putting it. Generally, I do think there’s a totally different aesthetic between the two big NY ballet companies, which I guess are sort of rivals in that it seems not that people love one and hate the other (anyone who’s a real ballet fan is going to go to both) but that people really really love one and just like the other. For me this is why. Martins deliberately chose to cast the two main roles with young, relatively inexperienced dancers. He said he didn’t want the dancers to “act”; rather he wanted them to just be themselves — young. It takes artistry, though, and perhaps “star quality” — whatever exactly that is — to make the characters live and breath and move the audience to the edge of their seats, and you just can’t do that, no matter how hard you try if you’re too inexperienced. Robert Fairchild (who played Romeo) is really really cute and it was clear that he put his heart into it and tried with all his might, and I think he, and Sterling Hyltin (Juliet) both have bright futures ahead, but I really think it was a mistake to cast young, inexperienced people in these major roles. It’s as if Martins is saying Romeo and Juliet don’t really matter; it’s Tybalt and Mercutio and Lord Capulet who are the important characters here. They are important but certainly not more so than the leads. I feel like I’m saying the obvious and I can’t believe he hasn’t got more criticism for this…
Anyway, I hope I’m not offending anyone; I do think I have a certain thing I go to the ballet to see and part of it is acting and artistry that will blow me away and I didn’t get that here, although I did think the choreography was very pretty and the dancers were all very good-looking, and it was generally that — a good-looking ballet that, to me, lacked substance with the exception of Joaquin and Daniel and Jock — all of whom had relatively minor roles and couldn’t pull the whole no matter how much they wanted to. It would be interesting to see more experienced dancers dance the leads and perhaps I’ll see it again if they do, but only if they do.
Other thoughts: the sets are very minimalist, which is normally neither here nor there with me — I care more about the dancing, though here, perhaps it’s just that I’m used to the fuller stage apparatus of ABT because I just felt like there wasn’t enough for me to feel I was really “in” the world he was re-creating. He said he wanted “more dancing, less crowd action” — I felt like there was less of both though I guess he did cut down on those long, drawn-out sword-fight scenes and ball-dancing scenes at the beginning that I could do without in the MacMillan. I guess I just felt like most of the dancing wasn’t compelling enough to me, so it didn’t matter. I did like his balcony scene, pretty but plain though it was, better than the Lavery.
Anyway, I am falling asleep. Just wanted to get my thoughts down and I hope people aren’t angry! I’m sure everyone who sees this will have their own thoughts and feelings about it!
To end, here are a couple more pics, taken from inside:
Yum! Dinner for the gala guests, from above.
And, a side pic of the gala guests. Sorry so dark – -I need a new camera badly!