Exploring NYC: American Ballet Theatre

by Lorien E. Menhennett

ABT programAs a kid, I always had at least one friend who was taking dance lessons. So I attended my fair share of ballet performances. But until this past Saturday night, I’d never been to the real ballet. The professional ballet, that is. It was an experience I won’t forget, and one I hope to repeat soon.

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. Ballet always seemed a lot like modern art to me—fascinating, beautiful in its own right, but inherently mysterious. Maybe this is why: I’m a writer. So it’s hard for me to understand how you can tell a story without words. But the American Ballet Theatre dancers did a phenomenal job of telling the story of “Romeo and Juliet” through movement, music, and costumes. I think it did help that I knew the story in advance. (Good ol’ freshman English—Mrs. Bailey’s class, and my first taste of Shakespeare. I remember being so fascinated with the line “Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?” and how biting your thumb in Shakespearean times was equivalent to flipping someone off in today’s culture.)

What was so marvelous was how the ballet dancers told the story. There were no words, obviously, but there was plenty of drama. The dancers’ movements ensured that, as did Sergei Prokofiev’s orchestral music. What surprised me was how characters were distinguished from each other. When you watch a movie, you can see each person’s face, enabling recognition. From my perch, I couldn’t see any faces. What the ballet used instead was color. The costumes for the Montague and Capulet families each had a different color palette. Tybalt, Romeo, and Juliet especially had clothing that stood out.

I don’t pretend to be a ballet aficionado now, to truly appreciate the dance. But I certainly enjoyed it—and look forward to my next night of ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House.