Review: ‘Romeo + Juliet,’ a Movielike Ballet in Need of Better Direction

Review: ‘Romeo + Juliet,’ a Movielike Ballet in Need of Better Direction

The best sustained dances are for peripheral characters and don’t advance the plot. The production’s sole true hit is a number for five boys (students from School of American Ballet) who turn up out of nowhere. Juliet’s five girlfriends, arriving on the morning of her wedding to Paris, have a dance that has more charm and musical phrasing than anything she gets herself.

When this production was new, Mr. Martins cast four pairs of junior dancers — all beneath principal level, and most in the corps — and announced that he wanted their youthfulness to make the story “for real.” It paid off in terms of those young dancers’ careers. (The first-cast Romeo was Robert Fairchild, now a Broadway name.) Yet almost 11 years later, Sterling Hyltin, Tiler Peck and Erica Pereira are still cast as Juliet, and Daniel Ulbricht remains the first-cast Mercutio. Tuesday night’s performance was my first return to the production since its first year: Ms. Hyltin and Mr. Ulbricht were no less real than before.

Harrison Coll, a corps dancer who made his debut as Romeo on Tuesday, is endearingly impulsive and coltish. It’s to his credit that he can’t making the brutal killing of Tybalt ring true. That savagery is uncharacteristic of this Romeo anyway; it’s just another of the production’s gimmicks.

There are five casts of lovers this year. Three of the Romeos — Zachary Catazaro, Chase Finlay, Taylor Stanley — are principals, as is a fourth Juliet, Lauren Lovette. Although Mr. Martins never again took such risks in casting his “Romeo” with juvenile dancers after 2007, he often took them in the company’s central repertory of ballets by George Balanchine. This was one of the Balanchine lessons he learned best.

Supporting characters — Lady Capulet (Maria Kowroski), Paris (Russell Janzen), the Duke of Verona (Silas Farley), Friar Laurence (Aaron Sanz) — have mime gestures that register with more force than when the production was new. As with so many Martins ballets, you think, “This could be good when he gets around to finishing it.”

Andrew Litton, who is conducting 10 of the 11 performances, shapes the score marvelously, even though moments of brass and woodwind playing on Tuesday let him down. From individual portamenti to overall sections, he really sets a stamp on the music in a way we seldom hear in ballet. In several other works, Mr. Litton isn’t always quite right with tempo or as a propulsive accompanist to dancers, but here his contribution powerfully enriches a patchy show.

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