Yesterday’s Romeo and Juliet was the most “dancerly” cast, by which I mean, it was full of ABT’s most quintessential dancers, as opposed to actors. Cast was: David Hallberg and Gillian Murphy as Romeo and Juliet, Jared Matthews as Mercutio, and Blaine Hoven as Benvolio. Photo above, of ABT’s poster of the ballet outside in front of the Met, showing David Hallberg with Paloma Herrera (and two adorable little girls posing in front)

David Hallberg has got to be the most beautiful male dancer now alive. I couldn’t find any photos of him and Gillian dancing this ballet together, but below are a couple of the two of them dancing Antony Tudor’s version, which the company did last fall at City Center.

Look at his gorgeous feet!!! (photo from Tobi Tobias’s ArtsJournal blog)

Photo by Andrea Mohin, from NYTimes.

Because he is such a tremendously beautiful dancer, I really prefer to see David in more pure movement roles, like Balanchine ballets or some of the newer ballets, like those created by Lauri Stallings and Jorma Elo and Stanton Welch.

He really came alive here when Juliet first sits down to play her lute at the Capulet ball and he dances for her. Those series of high jumps with the continuous turns high in the air landing on one foot almost made me cry. David is most at home when he’s just dancing, and any time he had a solo where he could kind of transcend the story, transcend everything around him and just dance, it really almost made me cry — I’m not kidding! For that reason, I will never ever tire of seeing him dance Romeo or anything else.

But this, to me, is the most dramatic of ballets. It’s Shakespeare, so it’s first and foremost theater, albeit using MacMillan’s poetry to advance the storyline instead of Shakespeare’s. During the first intermission, a girl behind me exclaimed to her friend, “I can’t even tell which one is Romeo!” And I’m sure she meant not that she didn’t see David, but that she didn’t know he was Romeo. And I kind of know what she meant.

For one thing, I think it was wrong to cast Grant DeLong as Paris. He’s too good-looking and charming and suave. Paris needs to be a bit of a dork, or there needs to be something off about him, or else you’re thinking, “Oooh Juliet, great catch!” Which is exactly what I thought when I saw DeLong.

And the other thing is David’s enormous dance skills being so far ahead of his acting. He didn’t really fully inhabit Romeo. But I still think he’s done far far better than before and I think he’s getting better. There were points where he really brought himself into that universe, into Romeo’s specific situations. He was very good with all of the sword-fighting, both at the beginning and in the second act, when he slays Tybalt. During those scenes, he really became a reckless kid not really thinking about the consequences of his actions. And my favorite acting part for him was before he killed Tybalt. When he picks up the sword that killed his friend, he looks at it, at first in disbelief, and then he traces its blade, wiping the imaginary blood, and what’s happened hits him and his rage against Tybalt takes off. I thought he did so well with that.

And then there are things I don’t think will ever look right on David, no matter how hard he tries — like his cavorting with the prostitutes. Roberto and Marcelo and Jose Carreno (wherever he’s been this season — he seemed to abscond after his turn in Giselle?…) are just so much more believable when they grab the harlots and play with them and toss them madly into the air. David’s just too much of a romantic 🙂 It’s partly just the way he looks. But he kind of plays off that by having his Romeo internally reject them, and by playing it as if he’s trying hard to be a sport and take their taunts with amusement.

I also heard people in the audience say they thought there was no chemistry between David and Gillian. I was reminded of something Chimene said on seeing them dance in Chicago, something along the lines that they’re both too ethereal, and she needs someone who’s grounded. I think the problem with the two of them together is that they are both quintessential dancers. No one’s humanizing this drama. Everyone’s concentrating on the stylistics and the plastique and the bodily expression of things, on making the most of every shape they possibly can, and of course on dancing with technical perfection. Gillian is probably technically the greatest female dancer in the world — at least that I’ve seen. And I loved her in Swan Lake — she was all-around my favorite Odette  / Odile. But Swan Lake is more of a dancerly ballet. I’m probably not using the right terms, but you know what I mean? It’s all about making shapes with your arms and torso and legs that most evoke a swan, a swan-maiden. And in the Black Swan pas, it’s all about seducing Siegfried with your pyrotechnics — those crazy fouettes and lightening-speed turns all over the stage. So the story is all in the body; you don’t really need to express anything with your face (at least if you’re the female lead).

But, again, Romeo and Juliet is fundamentally theater. No one arches her back like Gillian and no one looks as gorgeous running around the stage with her back and head thrown back and her arms out while fleeing her bedroom and running off to Friar Lawrence. And her form was beautiful too when she woke up in the crypt and freaked out about being in the midst of the dead and then began running about trying to figure out how to get out of there, when she nearly trips over Romeo. Diana Vishneva did much the same thing in that final scene, and I prefer Irina Dvorovenko, who kind of collapsed into herself and covered her face when she saw Romeo lying on the ground. Irina’s reaction to Romeo might not have been as “dancerly” as the other two, but it was human and it was real and it moved me the most. I also thought I saw the most in Irina’s eyes during that scene where she’s simply sitting on the bed staring out at the audience trying to decide what to do after Romeo’s been banished and she’s told she has to marry Paris. It takes a real actress to have that kind of thought behind her eyes, to be able to express so much while sitting shock still.

So, I don’t know. Everything David and Gillian did, both separately and together in the pas de deux was absolutely perfect, and absolutely beautiful. David almost went on pointe reaching up to her at the end of the balcony scene, when she’d gone back up to her bedroom. It was so gorgeously stylized, it should have been full of passion. But somehow it wasn’t. I don’t want him to stop making stylized choices like that — the way he apparently stopped taking his breathtaking dive at the end of Swan Lake. He just needs to learn how to make the passion come from within as well. Same with Gillian — she makes beautiful shapes, but they didn’t fully embody the passion here.

Jared Matthews got a lot of applause as Mercutio, but he didn’t do that much for me. His dancing was often stellar – -he had an excellent sequence of pirouettes — but the acting wasn’t there, and the role of Mercutio more than any other I think requires a good actor with decent comical ability. Am I going to see Daniil Simkin at all in this role, ABT? Patrick Ogle didn’t stand out much as Tybalt. He had the stern look down but it didn’t come through in his dancing. He danced it way too cautiously. Blaine Hoven was very very good as Benvolio — those cat-like sideways jumps made me want to jump up and whoot right then (of course I didn’t; I would never!). He seriously deserves a promotion to soloist. But I think he’s going to have to learn how to make some sort of facial expression if he’s ever going to make it to principal. Simone Messmer, as one of the harlots, gave a particularly memorable performance when Tybalt died.


  1. I actually disagree with you about David's acting, especially in terms of Romeo. I feel that he inhabits the role as a very young person – a boy, rather than a man – and Romeo and Juliet were supposed to have been in their early teens, so that's appropriate. At that age, on the cusp of growing up but with one foot still in adolescence, a lot of behavior is a sort of transparent acting. I saw the beautiful Gomes/Visheva performance at the beginning of the week too, and much as I love Marcelo, I still prefer David's performance of this role for its youthfulness. Perhaps its partly that no matter what his acting is, the spectacular combination of his dancing and his looks will always make the predominant impression. I am less fond of Gillian's acting, but like her as Juliet too. I've seen the two of them do R&J several times though, and have seen better chemistry between them in other performances, but still didn't feel they actually lacked chemistry yesterday. Your comment about humanizing the drama is interesting – what moves each of us is different, and can also change according to mood and circumstance. For one person, it may be more groundedness, and for another a more etherial or symbolic aesthetic is what does it. I was deeply moved yesterday.

  2. Anne Coburn Whitmore

    ooooooooh, sooo jealous of all your performance attendances – but so thankful for your wonderful reports!!
    *Great* writing – full of descriptions that make it all come to life for us readers. [Gosh, I miss Manhattan so much – ballet season is the worst on me ;).]
    Thank you so much for writing, so eloquently and in such detail, about all you've experienced this season!
    Anne W.

  3. Tonya, tomorrow I will see my final performance – David & Gillian in R&J. I'm so sad, I know I will be a little depressed for awhile. I really appreciate your thoughtful comments. I actually think David's acting has been improving. I saw him in Swan Lake and watched him thru my binocs during the entire character dance sequence. He had lovely moments with each princess and with the Queen mother. His attention to detail is marvelous and I think he is fast becoming a complete artist. I think back to 3 seasons ago when the first time I saw David was in R&J with Michelle and it was love at first sight. I've tried to see him in everything this season and was pretty successful despite some casting changes. My only regret is that I only saw Marcelo once, in Corsaire (and in the Corsaire rehearsal). I think I really missed something seeing him in R&J. Ah well, there's always next year. The fall season looks pretty sparse. I'm thinking of going up to Bard to see them there. If I don't happen to see you Sat matinee, thanks again for all your reviews and have nice summer!

  4. How absolutely gorgeous.. I'm so sorry I missed the performance this week… But, thank you Tanya!!! Going to keep my eyes open for next time. The photos above are absolutely breathtaking, and your commentary is compelling!!!! Best wishes beautiful dancer Tanya,,,,Magda

  5. Tonya, I thought this was written really well. I could picture it exactly in my head! I get what you said about Gillian – her technical perfection and lovely ethereal lines, may not be as human as some other dancers. Thanks for your lovely review!

  6. I don't like this couple at aaaaall

  7. I don't like this couple at aaaaall

  8. I am very surprised that you mention Gillian Murphy as a technically superior dancer. She is a lovely performer, and she gives a lot to her physical performance, but her training is unrefined in the very least. She doesn’t even straighten her knees properly, much less turn out from the hip – which, unfortunately, might shorten her career by a few years. And her shoulders are awkward. There are so many technically superior ballerinas studding the ranks of all sorts of companies around the world, and your praise – that she is “probably technically the greatest female dancer in the world” – seems to me uninformed and wishful. Svetlana Zakharova is often mentioned when great technical ballerinas of today are mentioned, and it is true that if you compare her Swan Lake pas de deux with Murphy’s, Murphy looks awkward, stunted, even messy. I love Murphy as a performer, but, I say: look to the Russians for ballet technique. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PeCtRraSODY

  9. @ Ana, I seem to remember another dancer whom the critics had similar complaints. Her knees were “bent”, her arms “floppy”, she danced with too much carefree “abandon”. Her dancing looked almost like improvisation, according to the critics at the time. Her name was Anna Pavlova. I believe she was Russian.

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