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Royal Ballet’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Live in New York Theaters on Astini News

During the intermissions of the live broadcast of the Royal Ballet's "Romeo and Juliet" on Thursday from the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, enthusiastic tweets were streamed onto the screen from viewers in Prague, Buenos Aires and New York, as well as parts of Britain. Here's hoping this series of transmissions continues to develop. They do much to give us an immediate sense of how dance companies far away are looking.

Bill Cooper

Lauren Cuthbertson and Federico Bonelli in the Royal Ballet's broadcast performance of "Romeo and Juliet."

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For reasons of local pride, resources should be found to put America's leading ballet companies onto international screens. We've seen now a spectrum of the Bolshoi Ballet's repertory, and we're becoming acquainted with today's Royal Ballet (which will screen its production of "La Fille Mal Gardée" on May 16); it's time they were shown the best of what's happening here.

Few ballets take to the screen as well as this "Romeo," choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan in 1965. Since then many other versions of Prokofiev's Shakespeare drama have been staged, but none have challenged the vivid and compelling supremacy of this one, which has been danced by several companies around the world. This June it returns to American Ballet Theater's repertory at the Metropolitan Opera House.

During the broadcast on Thursday the Royal Ballet surpassed the Bolshoi in its wealth of backstage documentary segments. Interview sequences amid the introductory and intermission material included Donald MacLeary (one of MacMillan's four first Romeos), Monica Mason (a member of the original cast, the company's artistic director and for years MacMillan's assistant) and Lesley Collier (currently coach to the ballet's principal dancers).

Thursday's performance exemplified the Royal Ballet's high standards of seamless, naturalistic and musically attentive dance acting. The cast was led by Lauren Cuthbertson and Federico Bonelli, both looking so young on screen that several New Yorkers watching the broadcast expressed disappointment on discovering that both have been dancing these and other principal roles for years. Mr. Bonelli's facial features, broad, clear neck and overall physique are handsome on a theatrical scale. Though some of his up-and-out acting is better for an opera house than for a cinema close-up, the suspense with which he delayed Romeo's first kiss on Juliet's lips was sensational.

Ms. Cuthbertson, however, is an actress whose subtle facial mobility makes her enthralling on the screen. After her first momentary meeting with Romeo in the ballroom the camera shows — as in great cinema acting — how a succession of different emotions passed through her even as she seemingly did nothing. Paris kissed her hand, she gracefully let this pass amid her bewilderment at the new emotions flooding through her, yet her face scarcely moved.

Their performances in Act I also showed the distinction of these two as classical dancers. MacMillan in 1965 was choreographing with many fine points of academic and musical phrasing that later dropped from his lexicon. (He died in 1992.) It did my heart good to see the astonishing freshness with which they have been faithfully preserved, as if choreographed yesterday.

Tiny details in the ballroom solos for Romeo and Juliet could so easily have been blurred over the years, but the camera relished the feathery inflection with which Mr. Bonelli, at the climax of a jump, finished the full shape of an arabesque, and the perfect dynamic sharpness with which Ms. Cuthbertson, catching the music, jubilantly opened her arms while turning her head and body back to greet the room.

MacMillan's choreography here marvelously shows how Romeo and Juliet, amid their new exhilaration, keep pivoting this way and that. Love makes them multidimensional. The polished grace of their steps is a fine counterpart to the educated brilliance of Renaissance language with which Shakespeare characterizes them.

In Acts II and III Ross MacGibbon, whose camera direction had been exemplary in Act I, went in for too many close-ups. Juliet traveled right out of the picture in an important passage when, after agreeing to marry Paris, she eludes him and her family. And when Romeo, thinking her dead, released her body to the floor, she again vanished from view.

Parts of her potion scene were filmed from the knee up; though that's where most of her body language indeed is, it helps us to feel her dilemma if we see her full distribution of weight right down to the soles of her feet. By contrast Mr. MacGibbon made the crowd scenes more entertaining than they often are in the theater, picking out individual vignettes amid the ensemble.

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