American Ballet Theatre Romeo and Juliet Review
July 16, 2022 | Metropolitan Opera House – New York, NY, US
Audiences poured into the Metropolitan Opera House on the final day of American Ballet Theatre’s season on Saturday, July 16 to see Cassandra Trenary’s debut as a principal dancer in the title role of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet.
Although Trenary’s premiere had an unexpected twist: her partner, Herman Cornejo was “unable to perform due to illness” two days before the curtain rose.
Principal dancer Calvin Royal III, who also performed in a double debut earlier in the week alongside Christine Shevchenko, stepped in at the last minute to be the Romeo to her Juliet. The couple had performed the balcony scene together in an outdoors virtual recording last summer when ABT’s Met Season had been canceled; however, this was the first time the two ran the entire three-hour ballet together on stage with a live audience.
After months of rehearsing every intimate detail of the passionate ballet alongside Cornejo, I was anxious for Trenary because of the added pressure to her debut.
Trenary’s professionalism, artistry, grace, and performance of the role of Juliet did not fall any shorter than perfection.
Royal and Trenary are both unique dancers in the company and stand out on the stage with their presence, bodies, and movement inclinations. Both are extremely athletic dancers and natural performers, and with their long limbs and perfect facilities, I knew the combination of the two would be a perfect marriage to MacMillan’s adaption of the tragic classic.
MacMillan’s choreography is equally technically challenging and requires a certain body proportion to complete the desired effect of his vision, and Trenary and Royal’s performance was bliss.
American Ballet Theatre Romeo and Juliet Review
A natural actress with a personality that reads as humble and passionate both on and off the stage, it’s easy to say that Trenary was born to perform this role. Oftentimes, I have found with more seasoned dancers the takeaway from the audience is something along the lines of, “I could believe she was thirteen years old and in love, I was entirely convinced with their storytelling as Juliet.”
For Trenary, there was no convincing - I only believed.
I was emotionally invested in Trenary’s most genuine, heartfelt, and moving interpretation of a small, innocent child who is forced to become a woman with interiority and independence in the “two hours’ traffic” onstage. Every movement from her fingertips, to the tracking of her eyes and to the timing of her breath was intentional and dedicated to telling Shakespeare’s story.
Technically, Trenary was equally flawless, never faltering even once through MacMillan’s tricky coordination. Particularly, there is a series of en dehors “step-up turns” traveling backward on a diagonal that switches between the left and right legs that even the most heralded dancers trip up on. Trenary sailed through the difficult sequence radiating freedom, ease, and joy.
Meanwhile, Royal’s boyish grin and physicality contributed to the conviction of Trenary’s performance.
Side by side, the couple’s acting truly swept audiences along with their tale and had me entirely convinced they were two young adolescents tragically in love. From the doomed first look into each other’s eyes leading into the ballroom pas de deux to their agonizing cry in the death scene, Trenary and Royal’s seamless connection elicited the most sincere tears from my eyes.
Royal’s first break-away solo moment in the ballet – Romeo’s “gate scene” before entering the ball where he dances in an extremely difficult trio alongside Benvolio and Mercutio – was a little rusty.
However, I will give the three dancers – Luis Ribagorda in the role of Benvolio and Jonathan Klein in the role of Mercutio – the benefit of the doubt. Completing multiple turns in synch is an extremely difficult task, especially alongside a cast that you’ve rehearsed alongside with only a two-days notice.
By the time the three heroes entered the ballroom scene, the performers had fallen into their element and Royal made stunning lines with his long limbs and wow-ed the audience with broad, lofty turns.
Klein deserves a notable mention for his surprising performance as Mercutio.
An underdog dancing the soloist role from the corps de ballet, Klein cheekily won the hearts of the audience with his witty and technically pristine execution of Mercutio’s demanding solos. MacMillan’s difficult turn sequences and cardiovascular demanding solos didn’t faze Klein in the slightest as he was entirely in character and executed the choreography with arrogant ease: sailing through floating triples while still managing to tease the audience and his cast members on stage. It will be interesting to see if Klein is cast in similar roles in next year’s Met season.
With many audience members’ eyes filled with tears, Trenary graciously beamed with joy at her well-deserved standing ovation curtain with bouquets tossed onstage. She truly proved the worth of her status as a principal dancer in her debut infused with unrivaled artistry. I – and am certain that others feel the same – have much anticipation and look forward to seeing what other roles she will master in future seasons.
Romeo and Juliet was the closing week of American Ballet Theatre’s Met season and Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie’s final with the company. The season closed with a slew of McKenzie’s final promotions, including Catherine Hurlin, Roman Zhurbin, and Daniel Camargo to principal dancers.
Before Susan Jaffe takes over as the next Artistic Director for ABT, McKenzie will have one last fall season which was announced earlier this week and will run October 20-30 at the David H. Koch Theater.
Featured Photo for this American Ballet Theatre Romeo and Juliet review of Cassandra Trenary and Calvin Royal III in Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor.
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