The day before I went to see New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker, I wrote a post about how much the ballet meant to me. It’s the ballet I’ve been in and seen the most, the ballet that I’ve seen the most companies perform, the ballet of which I’ve seen the highest number of different choreographies.
But I love the ballet that comes in second in all of those categories just as much. Differently, because it doesn’t dominate my memories of a month the way that Nutcracker means December to me, but it’s still a deep, difficult-to-describe love that has led me to do dramatic and unreasonable things.
Romeo and Juliet.
Okay, look, before you say anything, I don’t like the play very much. I don’t think it’s one where Shakespeare is at his best in terms of language or telling a story, and I have patience for none of the characters. (In particular, Friar Lawrence and the Nurse should both act more responsibly than they do.)
But all of that fades away for me in the ballet. I believe the relationship between Romeo and Juliet more, no matter where on the lust to love spectrum it is portrayed (and I’ve seen it at both extremes). All the key relationships come through better to me in dance, to tell the truth. The omissions and simplifications to the story strengthen it, and the time spent on Verona and its people gives a stronger sense of place and shows how the feud touches everything. And then there’s Prokofiev’s score, of which I know and love every note.
As Meg Howrey wrote in The Cranes Dance, “I would argue that the ballet is better than the play. If you disagree, it’s only because you’ve never seen the balcony scene pas de deux or you are made of igneous rock.”
I have seen or performed in Romeo and Juliet nine times. I’ve seen six choreographies performed by five companies, without counting what I’ve seen on film. (And in this case the ones I’ve seen on film are important because I’ve never seen the Macmillan, Cranko, or Lavrovsky versions live, and those are the three.) I wrote a paper and gave a presentation in college that were mostly excuses to talk about how important in ballet history and how perfect R&J is.
While living in Budapest for a semester, I timed weekend trips to Bratislava and Prague so that I could see the ballet companies there perform R&J. I went to Oklahoma City from Boston for a weekend to see Oklahoma City Ballet’s new R&J production, and about a year later I went to Toronto for less than twenty-four hours solely to see National Ballet of Canada do Ratmansky’s choreography. When I say I’ve done dramatic and unreasonable things for the sake of this ballet? The international and/or hundreds of miles of travel is what I’m talking about.
In comparison to that, buying my tickets for the Joffrey’s performance of Romeo and Juliet at Lincoln Center on the day they went on sale four months ago? That’s normal. And now, finally, that performance is this week.
I cannot wait to hear the familiar opening notes of Prokofiev’s overture and see the curtain rise, once again, on Verona.