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American Ballet Theatre’s New Seoloist

In its final week of Met performances for the season, ABT is presenting Romeo & Juliet (through Saturday). Along with Swan Lake, it’s probably the chestnuttiest of the company’s many chestnuts, but with good reason – the Prokofiev score, the lavish costumes, and the timeless, tragic story. It’s also a great showcase for the lead couple, although the premise that Juliet is transitioning between adolescence and womanhood can test the acting skills of dancers of a certain age. Alessandra Ferri, now retired, made a convincing 16-year-old in her 40s. But it takes so much dramatic and technical finesse – often gained with age – that casting younger dancers can be just as risky. Not to mention the political ramifications of giving major roles to less-known dancers over principals.

Corey Stearns and Hee Seo in Romeo & Juliet. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor.But it frequently pays off. Hee Seo, 24 (as is her Romeo, Corey Stearns), performed the role of Juliet on Wednesday afternoon, and it was an adrenalizing revelation for the audience. She has an ideal physique for the role, willowy, pliant back, with perfectly shaped legs and feet, like a female David Hallberg. She projected her emotions wonderfully, balancing the innocent and the tragic aspects well. I hadn’t planned on writing so much about Seo, but she deserves it.

Seo has been with the company for several years, and was just promoted to soloist this week. It is so difficult for a corps member to both maintain her respective position as one of many, where the point is to not stand out, and to simultaneously distinguish herself in order to receive more prominent roles. As I noted last week, Seo danced in an ensemble, then not 20 minutes later, shone in a duet. Was it simply where we focused our attention, or did she modulate her presence? A little bit of both, most likely.

Stearns earned his promotion to soloist last year, and has taken on several leading roles. For sure, he fits the princely mold, has proven solid technically, and is a sound partner. I trust that his acting will further develop and become more legible as he gains confidence. Another soloist who has flourished in bigger roles this year is Craig Salstein, who’s been with ABT for eight years. He danced Mercutio in Romeo & Juliet, injecting the role with playfulness. He also excelled as Puck in The Dream; we got a sense of how meaningful it was to him, and the company, by the bear hug he was given by Marcelo Gomes in the curtain call.

Image: Corey Stearns and Hee Seo in Romeo & Juliet. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor.

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SundayArts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank and by the Rubin Museum of Art. Funding for SundayArts is also made possible by Rosalind P. Walter, The Paul and Irma Milstein Foundation, The Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Jody and John Arnhold, and The Lemberg Foundation. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional funding provided by members of THIRTEEN.
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