It takes far more luck than is obvious to match a great Romeo with a memorable Juliet in a ballet version of Shakespeare's best-known love story. If it were easy, the audience would hurt so good at every outing -- and that certainly doesn't happen.
Los Angeles got lucky Thursday night.
Romeo was Italian heartthrob danseur Roberto Bolle, who was making a long-overdue Southern California debut with American Ballet Theatre at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in Kenneth MacMillan's 1965 three-act "Romeo and Juliet."
Juliet was Kiev-born Irina Dvorovenko, the willowy, wide-eyed ballerina who has always seemed a tad too calculating. Even with the range of story ballets in ABT's repertory, Dvorovenko's scenery-chewing ways have felt misplaced. Until now.
Juliet was just the ticket for Dvorovenko's approach. Bolle's less-overt style ended up making him a perfect match for her.
Tall and solidly built, Bolle has a 100-watt smile that travels like an arrow to the heart. He moved with exquisite clarity and assurance, a beacon even on a crowded stage. Bolle seemed to stop at the highest point of the arc in every leap. He clicked into positions for a definitive finish. Though he wasn't dispassionate, emoting was not his way. He told Romeo's story through his gracious, musically astute dancing, and through his thorough commitment -- to the role and to his Juliet.
Dvorovenko was on a more actorly journey. She emphasized Juliet's roots as the naive and spoiled child, then morphed into the adolescent flirt. The ballerina made the love-at-first-sight moment with Bolle something different entirely. During the party scene at the Capulets', it was fun to watch these two giddy lovers find each other. By the ballet's end, Dvorovenko's Juliet had become a life-battered but determined woman, dragging herself across the bier to touch Romeo's hand one last time before expiring. It was an impressive transformation.
ABT added MacMillan's "Romeo and Juliet" to its lineup 20 years after he created it for the Royal Ballet, using Sergei Prokofiev's popular and thunderous score. The ballet is flawed, with an uneven pace that makes it bloated. Scenic and costume designer Nicholas Georgiadis created sets that are raw and hulking, though the religious iconography has a mysterious appeal. His beige color palette for the corps de ballet's costumes contributes to the blandness of the scenes in the village square.
MacMillan made positive choices, moving music from the last act to lengthen the party scene and giving Romeo a solo in which to enchant Juliet. The principals turned the balcony scene, despite its often awkward lifts, into a wondrous spectacle, with Dvorovenko floating on her points and Bolle afire through every spin.
Still, the crowd scenes were interminable, particularly all that snarling among the citizens of Verona and the white-faced Harlots. Luciana Paris was first among Harlots with her wicked grin and firm stride.
Other supporting players varied from good enough to pleasantly surprising. Gennadi Saveliev was a stern Tybalt, more contained than thuggish. Carlos Lopez, the evening's Mercutio, ran out of energy before his part's tricky leaps and beats were over, but he redeemed himself by dying most sympathetically. Stella Abrera demonstrated a marvelous abandon in her mourning rant over Tybalt's body. Susan Jones, as Juliet's Nurse, and Clinton Luckett, as Friar Laurence, brought naturalistic freshness to their parts.
The orchestra sounded thin at the start, but the musicians responded to conductor Ormsby Wilkins' exhortations with the fiery percussive crashes and quavering strings that Prokofiev did oh so well.
Now, if only we can get Bolle back when ABT returns to the Music Center next July.
American Ballet Theatre
What: "Romeo and Juliet"
Where: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
When: 2 and 7:30 p.m. today; 2 p.m. Sunday
Price: $30 to $120
Contact: (213) 972-0711 and www.musiccenter.org