Sunday, October 11th, 2015. A Colón full to the rafters waits expectantly for the 5 pm performance to begin. Paloma Herrera says goodbye to her Buenos Aires career a couple of months before her fortieth birthday. And as she stated in several interviews, she goes away happy and in full form. Going back, months ago she left her home company, the American Ballet Theatre, with a triumphant "Giselle". Here the vehicle was Shakespeare´s Juliet as seen by composer Sergei Prokofiev and choreographer Maximilano Guerra.
Well, originally the idea was that she would depart from the Colón after dancing four Tatianas in "Onieguin", the Cranko ballet on Pushkin´s story, but there was no agreement with Stuttgart; the official version was that the Germans put unacceptable conditions; however, once the decision was made to stage "Romeo and Juliet" instead, the choreographer´s representatives proved more amenable and we´ll see "Onieguin" next year.
In fact Guerra had presented his "Romeo and Juliet" in 2009 at La Plata´s Argentino. And as it is deeply influenced by the great MacMillan version, and Paloma had danced it, she had no trouble in adapting herself to Guerra´s views. She will do four performances, but this won´t be her last hurrah in Argentina: she will dance her beloved Giselle several times with the Colón Ballet in several provinces, just days away from her next birthday.
Let me say unequivocally that I believe Prokofiev´s "Romeo and Juliet" to be musically the most important long ballet of the Twentieth Century. The composer proves himself adept at portraying the most varied situations: deep unconditional love, aggression, wry sarcasm, pomp, humor, parental domination, political power, light sexual innuendo, and so on. The music has melody, innovative orchestration, punch, subtlety, cunning harmony, danceable rhythms, incidental ambience in pantomimic scenes. I would only question that the death throes of Mercutio should be shorter.
Guerra has done a good job, especially in the abundant crowd scenes; the group dances are elegant, in Neoclassic style. The solos and duets are sensitive and likable, with particular demands of dexterity and suppleness for Juliet. The fights are aided by Lucas Garcilazo, fencing instructor, who has obtained decent results in group sword attacks. The weak side was in the handling of pantomime, often undramatic and insufficient, even from Juliet in the suicide scene.
The production had two aspects: the costumes by Eduardo Caldirola were agreeable, with fine color gradations, sumptuous in the cases of Lady Montague and Lady Capulet, and the lighting by Rubén Conde was quite adequate for the different moods. The stage designs by Daniel Feijóo and Adriana Maestri resorted to the unit set and were dominated by a central staircase; there was no balcony for Juliet; aesthetically they were functional rather than beautiful.
Before I go on, a few data about the "Romeo and Juliets" in BA. In fact it´s an abundant history. The original première was in Brno (Czechoslovakia), December 1938, due to differences of opinion with the Leningrad Kirov; after a revision (necessary because there was a silly happy ending) the 1940 Kirov first night was a triumph, and Galina Ulanova eventually starred in the film of the Lavrovsky choreography (it was thus that as a teenager I met this work).
In BA the first was Tatiana Gsovsky´s in 1951, followed by George Skibine´s in 1970 (with the wonderful pair of Olga Ferri -Paloma´s teacher- and José Neglia); then Vittorio Biagi´s in 1983; the best was MacMillan´s in 1992, 1994 and 1997; and that of Oscar Aráiz in 2005. We also saw other treatments of the love story: I was present when the American Ballet Theatre presented in 1955 a lovely view by Anthony Tudor based on Frederick Delius´s opera "A Village Romeo and Juliet"; and later on, the controversial choreography by Maurice Béjart based on the great dramatic symphony by Hector Berlioz.
And now, to Paloma´s performance: she was radiant, looked young, unbelievably supple, her technique honed to perfection. Indeed she proved that she is retiring in the fullness of her art. Her partner was Gonzalo García, Spanish, member of the American Ballet Theatre (the original announcement paired her with Juan Pablo Ledo, Principal Dancer of the Colón). He has the splendid technique required of soloists at the ABT and he is personable; he proved a very good partner to the great star.
You may think that I´m nitpicking, but I did miss that extra something of communication and magic that I experienced when Alessandra Ferri and Julio Bocca danced the Macmillan here. That was unforgettable and a reference; Herrera with García were very good, but what will make it important in the minds of ballet enthusiasts was that they would never see Paloma again. She is a great dancer, but not a great personality such as Alessandra or Plissetskaya.
Among the others I admired the dramatic presence of Vagram Ambartsoumian as Tybalt the villain (more so in this version for he kills Mercutio traitorously from the back) and the vital and virtuosic dancing of Edgardo Trabalón as Mercutio. I also liked Norma Molina as the Wetnurse. The rest were in the picture (several have mime roles). The Corps de Ballet was in fine form.
Emmanuel Siffert conducted the Buenos Aires Philharmonic with a firm hand and good phrasing, so that the beauty and impact of the music came through.
For Buenos Aires Herald