The Detroit Opera House was packed. You could sense the audience’s anticipation. It was almost too much for 4-year-old Dylan Hall to bear.
“Mommy, when does the movie start?” the tiny Detroiter asked her mother, Wanda. Her mother patiently explained that this was a live show. Soon, there would be real people dancing on the stage.
Dylan may have had her media confused on Thursday night. But she was very clear on why she was there.
“We came to see Misty Copeland,” she said, adding that she is an aspiring ballerina and already takes classes at the Detroit Windsor Dance Academy.
No doubt Copeland’s presence was part of the appeal for many others in the near-capacity crowd at the 2,700-seat theater. Copeland, an author, spokesperson, social activist and American Ballet Theatre’s first African-American female principal dancer, was about to dance the role of Juliet in ABT’s production of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s 1965 ballet “Romeo & Juliet.”
Even before you entered the theater, the buzz in the lobby said it all. This opening night was more than just a cultural gathering. It was an event.
ABT, after all, is one of the world’s preeminent ballet companies. In recent years, it has become a regular visitor to Detroit and its opera house. This five-performance stint in the city was the result of a collaboration between Michigan Opera Theatre and Ann Arbor’s University Musical Society. This is the final year of a three-year arrangement between the groups.
When asked if the partnership would continue, UMS president Matthew VanBesien smiled coyly and would only say “watch this space.”
If Thursday’s opening night performance is any indication, you have to hope the relationship continues. Seeing a ballet company like ABT is an unusual treat. There are few companies with the resources or the inclination to stage mammoth productions like this one. And the depth of talent in the company matches that of any in the world.
Now to “Romeo & Juliet.” For many ballet aficionados, this version of the ballet sets the standard for all other productions. The British-born MacMillan was a prolific choreographer. Beyond that, he was a master storyteller. And with “Romeo & Juliet,” he found a tale abundant with the sort of full-bodied drama that inspired him.
His telling of the story is rich and robust and a good deal longer than most newer choreographic versions. ABT’s production is a sumptuous one, with lavish sets and costumes by Nicholas Georgiadis and still-classic lighting by Thomas R. Skelton.
But while the sprawling scenes filled with dozens of dancers may be the splashiest aspect of ABT’s production, it’s not really what is at the heart of the ballet’s profound emotional impact. No, that lies in the smaller scenes and in MacMillan’s ability to finely define characters through movement.
He understood that stillness on the stage can be every bit as riveting as a frenetic onslaught of activity. In the third act, for instance, after Juliet has a huge confrontation with her family, she sits on the edge of her bed, trying to decide whether to take a potion that will make it appear that she is dead.
She may be young, but she understands just how monumental her decision is. She sits on the edge of her bed. And sits and sits and sits. It must go on nearly 30 seconds. There is an intense battle between passion and grief taking place inside Juliet, between her love for Romeo and her loyalty to her family. And yet Copeland doesn’t move. MacMillan doesn’t need movement to show what Juliet is going through. Prokofiev’s score and Copeland’s acting provide the turbulence.
It’s a gutsy choreographic decision. And it’s one that few choreographers would have the nerve for. It’s one of several places where MacMillan relies on his dancers’ acting as essential to the ballet’s storytelling. He helps, of course, with his almost cinematic way of telling the story. Scenes are often very short, moving the story along with a sense of urgency. If something is not important to the story, then why include it? It’s good choreographic policy.
Copeland is precisely as advertised; exuberant, enthusiastic and charismatic. But those are only the basics of her character. Her Juliet is testy, stubborn and even petulant. So while there was enough of her potent celebrity onstage to satisfy the most starstruck audience member, she also provided the die-hard balletomanes a finely nuanced Juliet.
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SOURCE: Detroit Free Press – David Lyman