New York City Ballet’s truncated Romeo + Juliet keeps its focus on the dancing. Peter Martins has served up a ballet that is pared down to two acts and moves briskly. The plot line is traditional, sufficient and easily followed with one significant difference. The good news is that it doesn’t fail to entertain. Tiler Peck delivered her Juliet with effortless brilliance, which was no surprise. There’s a tireless vibrancy to her dancing that renders everything she does bigger than life. Peck is at her peak as an artist and let’s hope it lasts a long time. Zachary Catazaro’s ardent Romeo was a pretty good match as he was credibly in love with her even if he fell a little short technically. It was a nice acting job from both of them. Their first meeting at the ball was lovely, the balcony scene full of passionate romance, the death scene deeply felt and poetic. They carried the show.

Tiler Peck and Zachary Catazaro in Peter Martins’ <i>Romeo + Juliet</i> © Paul  Kolnik
Tiler Peck and Zachary Catazaro in Peter Martins’ Romeo + Juliet
© Paul Kolnik

As always with City Ballet, the story ballets expose a continuing weakness in their training. They are brought up through the School of American Ballet to be Balanchine dancers, first and foremost. That is the company’s legacy and it is as it should be. The downside is that there are only a few acting dancers for all the parts and it inevitably leaves holes in the drama. Andrew Scordato was outstanding as Paris, my favorite portrayal of the evening. Daniel Ulbricht was an excellent Mercutio with an impressive array of tricks but Alec Knight lacked the stage presence for Benvolio. Jared Angle’s Lord Capulet was sorely lacking gravitas and while Savannah Lowery was better as Lady Capulet, it wasn’t by much. Sebastian Villarini-Velez is a fine dancer but was well short of the menace required to play Tybalt. Silas Farley was too pompous as the Prince of Verona and veered over the line into operatically extravagant gestures. I was always much too aware of these dancers as contemporary people which impeded the suspension of disbelief. The corps de ballet came to the rescue with very good overall performances from the Montagues and the Capulets. Per Kirkeby’s costumes were not much help in this. They lacked the weight of Renaissance clothing which would have been helpful in adding stateliness to their movement. His designs for the sets weren’t much better. Some of the costumes looked more graffitied upon than designed. The orchestra, under Andrew Litton, was uncharacteristically shaky with a number of off notes coming from the brass section, especially in the first act.

Tiler Peck and Zachary Catazaro in Peter Martins’ <i>Romeo + Juliet</i> © Paul Kolnik
Tiler Peck and Zachary Catazaro in Peter Martins’ Romeo + Juliet
© Paul Kolnik

This ballet is better than the typical Martins fare. The pas de deux with Juliet and her Romeo were affectionate and effective at portraying love. Some of the lifts were repeated too frequently but it wasn't necessarily a bad thing. There was however entirely too much reliance on the stock dance phrase: tombé, pas de bourrée, glissade, jeté, which I saw several times during the show. The choreography then, was less than inspired which would have been fatal except that Martins nonetheless did an effective job of telling the story. The significant plot interest arose in how he handled the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt. In the play, Tybalt kills Mercutio when Romeo has him restrained. It is a coward’s murder that exposes Tybalt’s deeply flawed character. When Mercutio dies, he exclaims, “a plague on both your houses!”.  Martins’ version is the first time in a ballet that I’ve seen Mercutio lay the blame like that, and it felt like he was directly blaming Romeo through his interference in the fight, as well as Tybalt.  The problem is that in Martins’ choreography Tybalt kills Mercutio fair and square, without any interference from Romeo, making it hard to see how Romeo (or his family) is to blame. The problem escalates when Romeo subsequently stabs Tybalt in the back and then proceeds to plunge the dagger into him viciously, several times. The actions here portray a coward’s murder. It was unexpected and seemed completely uncharacteristic of Romeo and I didn’t understand it. It renders him as dishonorable and I'm fairly certain that Shakespeare would not approve.  

With all the different versions of Romeo and Juliet circulating, dancegoers have a surfeit of choices. New York City Ballet's not the best but it's far from the worst and with so many terrific women in the company taking the part of Juliet you can be sure of at least one great performance. This is the one for people who want more ballet and less Shakespeare.

***11