HEE SEO: MY FAVORITE JULIET SINCE ALESSANDRA FERRI

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Photo by Gene Schiavone, taken from his website.

Hee Seo and Cory Stearns made their Met debuts in the R & J leads last Thursday night and if it isn’t clear from what I’ve blogged and tweeted before, and by this post’s title, I was completely blown away, particularly by Seo. It’s so hard to describe what you really love about a dancer, but I think with her it’s that she combines what I love about Diana Vishneva with what I love about Veronika Part. She dances the steps — particularly the bourrees, as Marie noted, in her own particular way that shows why the choreographer put them there in the first place (I’m thinking mainly of the tip toe steps first away from Paris, shunning him, then, in the following scene, toward him but ever so cautiously and completely without desire, then in a criss-cross pattern toward the bottle of fake poison). And she’s also a powerhouse of an actress, really taking you there with her, always in the moment, never being the least bit melodramatic, never “acting,” but always completely real. She’s somehow able to say so much just with her eyes, without even widening the lids without even making any kind of frown — just by having definite, intense thought that is somehow readable to the audience. And even though she’s so subtle, she somehow projects out to everyone. It’s really amazing — I really don’t know how an actress or a dancer does something like that.

There were places where I loved Irina Dvorovenko (at the very end — she doesn’t run around that crypt like a drama queen with her head cut off; instead she approaches the corpses, covers her mouth in fear, trips over Romeo, crumples into a ball and bawls — what anyone would do), and places where I loved Diana Vishneva (at the beginning, when playing the lute for Romeo, falling in love with him, especially the balcony scene). But I loved Hee Seo in every scene. There wasn’t a place where she wasn’t so completely in the moment and where she wasn’t able to make you feel exactly what she was feeling.

Photo by Samuel Zakuto, from TONY.

Her Romeo was Cory Stearns, who I liked but thought was very very nervous and let it influence his dancing. I know from David Hallberg via the Winger message board that this is the hardest role for a male lead, and it’s clear just from watching all those pas de deux how true that is. All those crazy high lifts, particularly the very last scene, where she’s limp as a rag doll. I can imagine having your Met debut must be terribly nerve-wracking for any man dancing Romeo, particularly a young one. I could tell he was shaky up front on the jumps — some of the landings were not so steady. He did seem to calm down, though, and kind of let himself get into the role, and he seemed to be doing much better by the second act (I think getting through the balcony pdd without any mishaps must always be a big relief!) But he also just seemed generally shy throughout, not wanting to take up space, not wanting to be seen, kind of relegating his Romeo to the corners of the stage. And that’s not good. Romeo needs to be aggressive to get his love, to avenge his friend’s death; Romeo needs to stand out.

And then during the curtain calls, same thing. They only took one. But people were going nuts with applause and were tossing bouquet after bouquet up there. They (Cory mainly, since he was leading her) just kind of walked away from the flowers and went back behind the curtain, as if hiding, and didn’t come back out again. I’m sure it was just nerves and awkwardness and not really knowing how to take all the applause, but I felt sorry for him because he didn’t really seem to understand how much people loved their performance. The company was also having a celebration for Frederic Franklin (who still plays Friar Laurence and who turned 95 in June), and I’m sure he was conscious of them wanting to start those festivities as well. But still, they could have taken one more curtain call!

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Franklin was so cute! My pictures didn’t turn out too well because of the dark stage but here he is amid the balloons and surrounded by the cast. Seo and Stearns are to the far left, and ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie is patting him on the shoulder. When he first came out onstage as Friar Laurence, everyone gave him so much applause that he had to come out of character, and walk out to the front of the stage to take a bow. He wore the sweetest little smile! We should all be like this at 95. And beyond.

One other mention: Daniil Simkin danced Benvolio, my first time seeing him in this ballet. I loved him, of course. In her post, Marie reminded me of that extra jab of the sword he took when dancing the mock-sparring scene with Romeo and Mercutio before the three crash the Capulet ball. If I remember correctly the jab was at Romeo and when Cory turned around, Simkin made clear he was just joking. It was a moment of playful camaraderie and I remember thinking these three — Simkin, Stearns and Craig Salstein as Mercutio — made, of any of the casts, the most believable trio of young friends. I also thought though it was a bit of foreshadowing of what was to come. So, I loved that he made that choice. I think Daniil is such a character, such a good actor as well as obviously a good dancer, I wasn’t sure why McKenzie didn’t cast him as Mercutio at all this run. He seems like the quintessential Mercutio and I saw every performance but one and am pretty sure he never danced it.

So, in the future, I would love to see Simkin dance Mercutio, and I would also love to see Hee Seo dance with Marcelo Gomes or Roberto Bolle as her Romeo.

12 Comments

  1. Yay! So glad to see your post this morning and to read your thoughts. I agree with what you wrote about Cory–I'm not sure he realized just how much people enjoyed his performance. And I'm glad you felt that way about the bourrees too–so funny. There are bourrees in every ballet. Swans, sylphs, maidens. And yet somehow when Seo bourred, I paid more attention. When you think about it, bourrees must have been one of the early pointe steps that really wowed the audience. Anyway, it wasn't just her bourres as you point out! She has command over the dance vocabulary, and everything looks gorgeous and expressive. I was interested to read that she would like to do some of the powerhouse roles too–like Odile. I hope she gets that chance.

    I'm sad the season is over. I feel like I finally know the dancers, and now it has all come to an end.

  2. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    I'm so glad we met this season, Marie, and bonded over ballet, and particularly her! Yes, I would love to see her in Swan Lake as well, and Giselle — I think Giselle would be so perfect for her! It's always so exciting to see someone new and wonderful, at the beginning of her career like this! I'll be awaiting news of that promotion :) And yes, I think that Cory just gets nervous (it seems like that from interviews I've read). I'm sure he'll get better the more comfortable he gets with the stage and with having these lead roles.

    I know, I'm so sad the season is over too. I love that ABT travels, so others can see them as well, but it seems like they're here so seldom that when the Met season is over, it's really over for a long time. I tend to get really depressed about it. And it's worse this year that the fall season is so short because of the City Center construction. Oh well, trying to throw myself into my novel so I don't think about it too much. And thinking about getting some of those Bolle DVDs at the opera shop (though they're rather ridiculously expensive). May look on Amazon. And I wish they'd produce more DVDs — I don't think there are any of Marcelo dancing lead characters. Come on ABT! Anyway, it's so nice to have someone who understands how the season ending can really be rather sad!

    • Tonya, loved you comment about the DVD’s. I’ve been saying that for years. Did you know that there is about three hours of footage of almost all of the great dancers of the seventies that was filmed for “The Turning Point”? Suzanne Farrell doing the complete Tchaikovsky Pas with Peter Martins, Fernando Bujones doing Black Swan Pas, etc.

      But because of money, politics, and other bull, it will probably be lost eventually, when the master deteriorates.

      There’s tons of video out there, and I think there is a bigger picture here. It’s not always about money. What do you think?

      Jeff

  3. I know what you mean about the traveling thing. But I think there were a few years after Kevin McKenzie took over the company where they were in such dire financial straits that they could not travel–and I think they just performed at City Center. And, San Francisco is where I first saw and fell in love with ABT (even saw Kevin dance!), so I know it is important that they get to go on the road. (I don't think they've been back to SF in a long time–I hear the stage floor is very hard).

    I would love a Golden Age of ballet on TV to return. I mean, as a small child, there was just so much dance on television, and it was always special when my parents let me stay up to watch ballet. I wasn't allowed to stay up late for much else, but when City Ballet was on, my parents let me stay up late. It would be nice if that kind of thing happened again–and then we could have DVDs to boot!

    • Marie, I remember those days too! I remember going over to my neighbor’s house to see a “live” (taped) performance of Nureyev and Fonteyn in Macmillan’s “Romeo & Juliet” and even a rare “Ondine”, choreographed by Ashton on Fonteyn! She never looked so Balanchine!

      It was one of the main reasons I decided to pursue ballet, seeing it “in the flesh”, as it were, to know it actually existed.

      Bring back Firestone Theater!

      Jeff

  4. I agree with everything you said! I saw the ballet and the dancers from exactly your
    point of view. From the beginning,
    I saw Corey's nerves and really felt badly for him.
    His first Romeo at the MET with a NY audience
    would give any dancer, even a more experienced one, very nervous indeed.
    I was praying that the lifts would go well. Corey pulled it off with determination!
    The trio of friends was perfect, Corey Danil and Craig. I think they acted as
    friends in the way I felt they supported Corey.
    Craig could have “shown off” with higher jumps in Scene 3 (before
    the ball) Props to him for toning it down and waiting for his solo to shine.
    And what more to say about Hee….When I saw her do this pdd at YAGP
    she reminded me of “someone”. Hee has a beautfiul career in ahead of her
    and I was so happy to be there for her first Juliet!
    And I missed the curtain call too. They could have come out to see the love!
    Finally…
    I think I saw a happy tear in Fredrick Franklin's eyes! What a lovely gracious man!

  5. Just saw Hee Seo today dance Juliet – she made history – desperate to see her dance again!!

  6. Hee Seo was perfect in every way. I adored her.

  7. Does anyone else think that Hee Seo should be a principal? She wasn't just playing Juliet, she was Juliet.

  8. Does anyone else think that Hee Seo should be a principal? She wasn't just playing Juliet, she was Juliet.

  9. Saw Hee Seo today at ABT R&J dress rehearsal. Hadn’t seen her dance before. Wow! What a Juliet! She has a great career ahead of her!

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