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Romeo and Juliet for NYCB's next generation.

At first glance, Peter Martins' decision to mount a full-scale Romeo and Juliet seems surprising. It counters what New York City Ballet represents: the epitome of a neoclassical repertory ballet company. Romeo and Juliet, which premieres this month and runs for 14 performances, is only the ninth full-length ballet to enter the company's repertoire.

Martins, ballet master in chief, asked himself: Who needs another Romeo and Juliet? "Only if it can be different and unique to NYCB--then maybe there is room for another," he decided.

Sitting in his sun-filled office at the New York State Theater, he talked enthusiastically about his newest and most ambitious project to date--choreographing his first full-length ballet. "Although I did a lot of the choreography for both Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake," says Martins, "fundamentally, the bases were there by Petipa and Ivanov."

Productions of the ballet abound, most notably Leonid Lavrovsky's original version for the Kirov and Bolshoi (which he choreographed with the composer Sergey Prokofiev sitting in on the rehearsals); John Cranko's sweepingly dramatic production for the Stuttgart Ballet; Kenneth MacMillan's deeply moving tour-de-force for The Royal Ballet, and Frederick Ashton's creation for the Royal Danish Ballet--in which a 10-year-old Martins was a page.

Martins made an audacious decision when he cast his Juliets from the School of American Ballet (NYGB's training center). He chose dancers who are near the age of Shakespeare's adolescent heroine. "I didn't want acting," says Martins. "I wanted innocence, a physical look of true adolescence, someone who looks 13 or 14."

Casting teenagers in one of the most romantic star vehicles can be risky. Traditionally, choreographers have created the role on seasoned ballerinas whose artistry is capable of encompassing the full spectrum of human emotion, from innocent joy to tragedy.

Among the most famous who performed the role are Galina Ulanova, who was 30; Fonteyn, 46; Marcia Haydee, 33; and Alessandra Ferri, who performed the role as an 18-year-old, and now, at 43, is still a favorite Juliet at American Ballet Theatre.

Prokofiev devoted much of his score to the love duets. Martins, a great partner during his dancing days, and a choreographer of inventive, virtuoso partnering, has the background to tackle the marathon adagios so central to the plot. The young Romeos, who come from SAB and NYCB, are experiencing the ultimate on-the-job training.

Inspired by Georges Rouault's set for Prodigal Son, where one versatile element functions in many ways (a fence becomes a boat and then turns into a table), Martins asked Danish artist Per Kirkeby to come up with a similar concept. Kirkeby, who created the sets for Martins' Swan Lake, has designed a massive rectangular edifice that works like a multifunctional Lego game.

The choreographer has pared down his production to two hours with one intermission, which comes after Romeo receives the note from the Nurse to meet Juliet in the chapel. "That is the way Prokofiev conceived it," says Martins. "The first half of the ballet is all love and exuberance. The second part is tragic."

As a centennial tribute to Lincoln Kirstein, co-founder of SAB and NYCB, Martins has dedicated this production to him. Lord and Lady Capulet will be portrayed by Jock Soto and Darci Kistler, who are on the faculty at SAB and teach the Juliets and Romeos. Martins says, "It's very much a family affair."
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Title Annotation:DANCE MATTERS
Author:Woods, Astrida
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:May 1, 2007
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