Sterling Hyltin and Robert Fairchild rehearsing Romeo + Juliet, photo by Paul Kolnik, 2007
On Thursday evening, May 21, “Live from Lincoln Center” on PBS will broadcast New York City Ballet’s production of Romeo + Juliet, choreographed by Peter Martins. Check your local listings for the exact time of the broadcast.
In spite of all the hype and wonderful behind-the-scenes videos leading up to the May 2007 premiere of Romeo + Juliet, I was disappointed with the production when I saw it at that time. Unexceptional choreography and dreadful costumes weaken the ballet, while its youthful dancers are its primary strength (Sterling Hyltin and Robert Fairchild, who created the title roles, both received well-deserved promotions shortly after the premiere). I remember feeling particularly frustrated by the choreography’s hazy portrayal of the plot. Some critical moments in the ballet, such as when Friar Laurence marries the star-crossed lovers, were so rushed and insubstantial that they were lost to the audience. Considering that I had this problem from an orchestra seat, I imagine that the plot looked even blurrier to audience members in the balconies.
Although I don’t plan on attending a performance of R+J this season, it might be worth tuning in for the televised broadcast, which will probably remedy (or at least conceal) some of the ballet’s problems by utilizing a combination of close-ups and wide angles in order to convey both plot and movement. A Playbill article by Pia Catton discusses the process of transferring the live production to the screen, which involves collaboration among Martins, “Live from Lincoln Center” executive producer John Goberman, and director Alan Skog. As it turns out, eight cameras will be placed throughout the theater so that the director can choose from a variety of vantage points throughout the ballet, with input from Martins. Catton writes:
“Each shot is transcribed into a camera script and given a number so that each cameraman will know his role in the sequence. But at this stage, it’s all written down in pencil: Even though it may look good to the director, the choreographer gets to have his say. Skog and Martins go over the ballet shot by shot to see if there are trouble spots or if a change in the choreography is needed.”
It should be interesting to see if a televised version of this production is more coherent than the live performance. The costumes probably won’t be any less distracting, but the ability to zoom in on the action might more effectively convey the plot. Tune in this Thursday, May 21.