Friday, July 10, 2009


Seo and Stearns

Last night, I saw something truly special. The South Korean born ballerina Hee Seo and her partner, American born Cory Stearns, debuted at the Met in Romeo and Juliet. It's my last ballet this season, and I'm so pleased it ended on a high note. As you can see (photos taken from ABT's website), Stearns and Seo are beautiful people.

I have to be honest. I bought a subscription series to try to ensure decent seats this year, and was expecting to see Irina Dvorenko, who was originally slated for this evening. I've never seen her dance, and was very curious. And I was irritated when she and her partner were replaced by people I'd never heard of. I'd already decided not to get a subscription again, but to buy single tickets in the future. But this sort of clinched it for me.

And then I saw Seo dance in Desir, partnered by Marcelo Gomes, and I was floored. She and Gillian Murphy both had large parts in Desir, but it was Seo who absolutely radiated that evening. She has a smile that projects all the way up into the Family Circle. She is gorgeous--the lines and the feet and the extension are all there. But she is so alive as a dancer, that I find it impossible to stop to watch just for technique, or just for some pose. With Seo, everything just comes together. She dances with incredible warmth-there is no technical coldness to her. Also, I get the feeling that her style is her own--she hasn't been overly schooled in one kind of technique over another, so she doesn't default to some kind of clinical behavior she was taught to adopt in class. Whatever she does, she is always dancing. And as an audience member, that is what I want to see.

Time and again this season, my eye was drawn to Seo whenever she was on stage (and no, it's not because she's Asian). Some people just have a unique quality that sings out to you--and she has it. Once I realized how special she is, and that she is at this point just in the corps (Kevin, promote her, please!), I couldn't wait to see what she would do with Juliet.

Seo began dancing at 12, a relatively "old" age for a dancer to start. To hear her tell it, she blithely auditioned for the Sun-hwa Arts school in South Korea, after only dancing for 6 months, then went on to win a scholarship, bypassing the other girls at her audition who had been dancing for years. This story of course made me think of 1: my novel (for anyone who has read it) and 2: the Korean soap opera Boys Over Flowers where Jan Di is accepted to prestigious Shin-hwa school on scholarship. But that's just me and my dorky free-association brain going to town.

I still remember the cast for my first Romeo and Juliet, even though it's been over twenty years. I saw Marianna Tcherkassky as Juliet, Johan Renvall as Mercutio (and became fans of theirs for life) and Robert Hill as Romeo. I've seen a lot of pairs since then, but Tcherkassky was still my gold standard until I saw Alessandra Ferri and Julio Bocca, who were magical together, as everyone will say.

I've been bored by a lot of Juliets and bored by even more Romeos. But now I have to agree with Tonya that Seo is the best Juliet I've seen since Ferri. And while I also agree that I want to see her dance with Bolle, I do love the Stearns/Seo chemistry. Also, if you read Seo's interview, she's fiercely protective of her partnership with Stearns. And I rather like that. It's very Juliet-like.

Everything about Seo's dancing last night was just wonderful. I've never seen such girlishly expressive bourees--I now understand why MacMillan used them at that point in his choreography. The moment in the ball scene where Romeo first lifts up Juliet, and she's clearly delighted and surprised by this new sensation, seemed just right for the character at that point in the plot, and for the music. This complex-but-still-girlish set of emotions absolutely radiated out of Seo's body. Her desperation when Romeo leaves the morning after having killed Tybalt, relayed a real growth in character, from young girl boureeing about, to a woman about to take control her life via a somewhat drastic decision. Juliet's a fabulous character for an intelligent performer after all--both in the play and in the ballet. You can tell that Seo has thought about Juliet's arc, and yet there is nothing calculated in her performance. It was a joy to watch her.

Stearns, as I said, is also gorgeous and has the makings of a wonderful lead. I now realize I've seen and enjoyed him dance in a piece by Millepied at the Joyce last season. But I felt as though he were nervous at the start of the ballet last night--I wanted him to enter the stage and take command and not hold back, which I felt him doing. Romeo's kind of a laddish guy at the start of the play, but leads are leads, and it's still important to make an entrance.

Reading this interview between Stearns and Kourlas (grr), I wonder if people have told him he's arrogant so many times that he hasn't figured out how to channel his naturally playful energy on stage and make what some have criticized as "arrogance" (and which probably isn't) work to his advantage--ie, he just has to be himself. Really, it's terribly romantic for an audience to think that a slightly cocky guy loses his edginess because he's fallen in love with a girl. Stearns can absolutely capture that transformation, and I'm sure he will in time. And his chemistry with Seo was just superb. I actually got chills watching the two of them come together in the ballroom scene. And you felt his anger when Mercutio was killed, and his despair when he found his beloved Juliet "dead" in the tomb.

Other highlights: I was so pleased to see Danil Simkin, a late minute replacement for Benvolio. Gorgeous dancer. I've never noticed the part of Benvolio much before, but because of Simkin's performance, I did. There was a moment, for example, where both Benvolio and Mercutio make fun of the feuding Capulets and Montagues, by playfully miming swordfighting and stabbing, while in arabesque. Simkin gave his mimed stabbing an extra thrust that echoed in his torso--just a tiny detail that made the moment and the character seem more and alive, engaged and real. He used his turns and jumps to really show off his character--Benvolio, the peacemaker. I hope to see more of Simkin next year, and in larger roles. I wonder, for example, what he would have done with Mercutio, where there is just so much musical material and choreography to mine. Simkin, like Seo, is not just a good dancer, but an intelligent one.

Kristi Boone is fierce. I saw her as the Siren earlier in the season and she was wonderful again tonight as Lady Capulet writhing in agony on the floor after her beloved Tybalt was killed.

Finally, the legendary dancer Frederic Franklin celebrated his 95th year by playing the role of Friar Laurence. There are no people like show people. ABT marked the performance with balloons and extra flowers.

I just wish that since Seo really triumphed last night, she and her partner had had more of a chance to enjoy their own curtain calls. It was their night too. But, I suppose, she'll be back, for many, many more curtain calls in the future. I'm pleased that so many balletomanes agree. And in the pathetic way of a fan who wants to pretend that someone else's success is part of my own--I can say that I was there at the start!

(One final note to the ABT orchestra: please get some new trumpets. I understand when horns have a bad night. But trumpets? And repeatedly?)

hahahahhahaha. i wasn't going to be sour and comment on the orchestra.... but they had some serious beef from the OVERTURE. like, the third measure!! and the brass was bad, yeah, but the strings weren't perfect either. it was a serious off night.

not that i minded that much. the dancing was so great!!
Yeah, the dancers deserved a better orchestra than that. And it was painful how often that trumpet choked on his parts. Repeatedly. But the music is also challening. Maybe they were under rehearsed? But you'd think the trumpet would know his solos after so many years . . . Still, the dancing was superb. I hope they promote Seo, like, now. And I hope that she and Stearns dance together again soon.
Wonderful review, Marie! I've been having a hard time writing mine -- it's so much easier to be critical than to express why you really loved someone, as I did her! (Probably why critics are often more critical than laudatory...) Her bourrees are really special -- Diana Vishneva's are like that too. And thank you for reminding me of that Daniil Simkin moment with the mimed sparring -- I loved that, and haven't seen anyone else do it. I have NO IDEA why they haven't cast him as Mercutio. No idea.

Yeah, I totally agree about the curtain calls. I didn't know if it was more nerves and not really knowing how to handle a curtain call or whether they really wanted to get the Franklin celebration underway. They definitely could have taken one or two more though -- especially since they were starting to get some bouquets tossed up there at them!

Funny, I never seem to notice the orchestra. During Giselle, right before the mad scene when Hilarion calls Albrecht's people by blowing the horn, a critic whom I'm friends with who was sitting next to me literally grabbed me. I could only see David Hallberg standing there with his sword out and I got so nervous some bad malfunction had happened and someone got hurt. At intermission I asked him what was wrong and he said "didn't you hear that hideous horn?!" I hadn't -- was too immersed in David Hallberg!

Anyway, wonderful night, and wonderful hanging out with you guys afterward!
Tonya, I had such a great time with you both too! I'm so glad we met, and it will be fun following dance in New York this fall with you, and definitely planning to see ABT next season. There will be some dancers I won't want to miss. I'm glad we met up--it's so much fun for me to have a fellow dance fan in circle of friends!

Can't wait for your review, and to learn if you went back to the ballet this evening.
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