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Review 1, 4-3: Legacies
In Cranko's House with Stuttgart
By Aimee Ts'ao
Copyright 2003 Aimee Ts'ao
BERKELEY -- When I heard
that the Stuttgart Ballet would be performing at the end of March
at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley, I was hoping to see what the company
has been up to recently. Instead, it gave three performances of
John Cranko's "Romeo & Juliet," first choreographed in 1958 for
La Scala Ballet in Milan with Carla Fracci in the leading role,
then re-set on Cranko's own Stuttgart company in 1962. It's not
that I was disappointed exactly, but I had seen this company when
it made its fabulous New York debut in 1969, performing all three
of Cranko's renowned evening-length ballets, "The Taming of the
Shrew," "Eugene Onegin" and "Romeo & Juliet," with such dancers
as Marcia Haydee, Richard Cragun, Egon Madsen, Birgit Keil and Susanna
Hanke, and those are quite some legends to live up to.
In the leading roles
opening night, Thursday, March 27, were Sue Jin Kang and Filip Barankiewicz.
Kang was given the "must see" by my editor Paul Ben-Itzak and as
the company was not very definite in the casting until the last
minute, I committed to seeing two performances as a back-up strategy.
Her dancing is beautifully clear, with a crystalline edge usually
associated with attack, yet with her it is effortless. She never
does a step for the sake of showing how high or how many she is
capable of, but rather only to further her artistic expression.
In these days of ubiquitous technical accomplishment without insight,
it is very refreshing to see such taste and refinement. My Stuttgart
mole, a friend who has been associated with the company for 31 years,
says that she is one of the few dancers remaining from the days
when Haydee was artistic director, before the current director Reid
Anderson. Haydee liked Kang very much and coached her in these important
Cranko roles. From her entrance as the young and innocent adolescent
to her wrenching suicide, nothing is left to chance; the entire
arc of Juliet's development in a matter of days is clearly delineated.
While this approach could also be seen as a liability, lacking in
spontaneity, it is still filled with emotion and very satisfying.
The only drawback is the production itself, which ultimately limits
Kang's ability to explore the role more. Cranko's choreography is
lauded as being one of the best versions around. It does have many
fine attributes: the variations, the ensemble work, the momentum
of the drama. Yet it is also shorter and less detailed in many ways,
which doesn't allow as much time for character development or understanding
the complex societal and cultural context of the historical era.
As Romeo, Barankiewicz
is wonderfully charismatic; I can't take my eyes off him. He possesses
a deceptively easy technique, his multiple turns are almost taken
for granted, his jumps simply flying, and his exquisite line an
afterthought. That is not to say he hasn't worked very, very hard,
but the result appears natural and you are convinced he was born
able to do it all. In addition, he dances with passion. There are
passages with Juliet when he dissolves into the moment and the movement,
he is in love and then totally surrenders to it. Barankiewicz's
spontaneity makes a slight mismatch with Kang's approach. I would
find out the following day that it was only his second performance
in the role. Perhaps as he settles in he will be more in tune with
whomever he is partnered, though his is an auspicious beginning.
Other dancers who catch
my eye are Thomas Lampertz as Mercutio and Ibrahim Onal as Tybalt.
Both are strong artists and know how to act their parts without
pushing their portrayals over the line into caricature. This is
a particular danger when they both are required to die dramatically.
The corps de ballet also performs with a unity of style and a solid
level of energy that needs to be commended.
The next evening I am
back to see another cast. Making her debuting as Juliet is Bridget
Breiner and again, it's a very promising start. Breiner is a beautiful
dancer who can also act and does an excellent job of drawing me
into her inner world. One moment ecstatic, the next confused by
her own feelings, she continually reveals different aspects of a
budding woman in love trapped by circumstances beyond her control.
It would be interesting to see her paired with Barankiewicz, as
they both have a passionate side. As it is, her Romeo, Jiri Jelinek,
is having an off night technically and appears to be throwing himself
indiscriminately into his acting to make up for the deficit. With
maturity, he will learn not to fight fire with fire and instead
draw on artistry. Douglas Lee makes a very elegant and notable Paris.
Mercutio is strongly played by Ivan Gil Ortega, while Barankiewicz
is positively charming and funny as Benvolio.
I leave the theater,
not emotionally devastated as I was after seeing Fonteyn and Nureyev
in Kenneth MacMillan's version, but saddened, thinking about the
idea of needless, senseless death and its inevitability in the world
we live in. The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet existed long before
Shakespeare in other forms, and the fact that we haven't evolved
much in centuries is more than sobering; it's quite depressing.
It makes what little love we find in our own lives and in the world
in general all the more precious.
The Stuttgart Ballet
itself is a fine example of how the arts can bring together many
different kinds of people working toward a common, constructive
and beautiful goal. The dancers are German, French, English, Spanish,
Polish, Russian, Czech, Korean, Turkish, North and South American
and backstage there is a wonderful, and startling, mix of many languages,
often sequentially from one mouth. The need for universal communication
has made English the lingua franca for rehearsals, class and company
business. It gives hope that one day the peoples of the world will
find a common language, and that perhaps the arts will provide the
Dancer, dance teacher, and writer Aimee Ts'ao is the Dance Insider's
West Coast bureau chief and senior ballet writer.
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