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Photo Credit :: ABT
Arts & Entertainment
ABT at the Met and the HX Awards
By Mark Thompson & Robert Doyle
June 18, 2007 
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When a New York night goes right, it’s oh-so-sweet. Take Monday night of Pride Week, for example. We’ve got tickets for the ballet: American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera doing Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s production of “Romeo and Juliet,” starring Angel Corella and Diana Vishneva as well as Herman Cornejo. A sort of Triple Crown-winning cast, the ABT equivalent of the wunderkinds of Broadway’s latest Best Musical smash, Spring Awakening.

As if that weren’t enough, Lincoln Center is again hosting the HX Awards, mc’ed by Jonny McGovern, and starring last year’s Drag Queen of the Year, Peppermint Gummibear. That’s at Josie Robertson Plaza, right in front of the Met. What to do? Should we get there in time for the open bar at seven—and then dash to our seats at the Met?

No. Even better—we make a six-fifteen reservation at the Grand Tier Restaurant at the Met—which overlooks the Plaza, thereby enabling a bird’s-eye view of the downtown glamazons and glitterati as they make their entrances. We’re loving the restaurant—mostly for its perspective onto Lincoln Center’s open plaza, the trees in full boom. The service is attentive; the food as good as…well, first class in the air. Face it, we’re there for the view—and just as we’re finishing up our pistachio tartufo—here she comes, wearing knee-high gold lamÈ stiletto boots and a sequined mini-dress, dragging her Valextra roll-on behind her, that mane of golden-flecked hair, none other than Miss Peppermint Herself—walking with intent—“She’s got a show to do, baby”—parting the Lincoln Center crowd with her unmistakable charisma, leaving a trail of gaping onlookers in her wake.

Now that’s an entrance.

And now it’s time for us to make ours into the gold-leafed and red velveted and crystal chandeliered expanse of the Metropolitan Opera. The crystal chandeliers rise, the audience continues to jabber—as if to get in one last word before the conductor arrives—to applause. And then we’re off…

We’ve never seen this ballet before, nor Angel and Diana in action—both of whom are revered by the true balletomane, one of whom has sent us here tonight. We can feel him hovering nearby, his giddy anticipation. The thrill of seeing something exquisite for the first time. And he’s right. It’s immediately clear from the moment Diana makes her entrance. Technically brilliant, but more than that—she’s the epitome of youthful exuberance and unbridled joy in her opening scenes with Nurse. A girl of thirteen in the flush of life—and, as danced by Vishneva, as ephemeral and beautiful as a summer rose.

MacMillan created this version of the Shakespearean tragedy for the Royal Ballet in 1965—and it’s a sumptuous recreation of the Italian Renaissance, complete with costuming designed to set a couturier a-twitter. By the curtain’s fall at the end of the first act, we’re smitten—not only by Vishneva, but also by Angel Corella’s contagious joie de vivre which he amply demonstrates with awe-inspiring leaps and turns.

It’s nine p.m. We float out to the balcony of the Metropolitan Opera, overlooking Josie Robertson Plaza and the HX Awards—and just then, exactly at nine, it’s Peppermint Gummibear time. “Miss HX Drag Queen of 2006,” announces Jonny McGovern—and the crowd goes wild, cheering and applauding as Pep arrives onstage in black short shorts and black patent leather knee-high boots and a corps of six dancers, all done up in white—and with that, Miss Peppermint rips into “I Thought You Knew,”—her just-released hit, with the boys backing her every move, in perfect sync.

“Who’s performing?” asks a balletomane standing next to us, impressed and yet confused. “It’s Peppermint Gummibear,” we say to him—as if it should be entirely obvious. The balcony of the Met Opera is packed three-deep and the crowd in front of the stage below is cheering—and Pep is totally in control of the situation, her mane of gold-flecked hair following her every move. Riveting performance, filled with energy and charisma. Sexy grrrl, sexy boyz—no wonder she’s a star.

From one star to another—and then we’re back in our seats for Act II—where Angel and Diana make it clear without a single word, using only their expressive bodies, their every muscle and every fiber of their being that there’s no one else for either one of them. Prokofiev’s score helps, of course, soaring and swooping as Angel and Diana follow its lead.

Though you know where all this is heading, you cannot help but fall under its spell—and somehow, at the end of Act II, when we return to the balcony overlooking the Plaza, it’s appropriate that we are greeted with a nearly empty plaza as the HX Awards Show set is broken down. The crowd has dispersed and the winners are heading home. And there’s Peppermint, once more, this time in a burgundy ensemble, her entourage in black, as they blow air-kisses off their hands and shout come-ons over their shoulders, and stop for one more photograph—before they disappear into the New York night.

Act III—where Juliet is confronted in her room by her father and her mother, by their demands that she acquiesce to what they want for her and not what she wants for herself, and whereupon Vishneva lets her body reveal all the ways in which young women of the time were restricted and constrained—and how she yearns to break free, once and for all. Standing on point and gliding backward, away from her parents, and toward the balcony where her beloved has called to her, Vishneva’s Juliet slides away from this world—and into one more ever lasting. Haunting to witness, and an image impossible to shake.

And later, in the crypt when Romeo takes Juliet’s lifeless body and whirls it about, willing it to life, Vishneva’s limpness and pliancy enables Death the final word.

Except—there’s the curtain call, and the applause—and the young lovers resurrected. Standing there before the rest of the cast, and then, before the magnificent curtain, just the two of them—to thousands of cheers. Flowers hurled across the orchestra pit, bouquet after bouquet. Six or ten bouquets at first—and then a flurry more. Maybe six or ten more—and each bouquet from this second set, Angel catches out of the air, with perfect reach—before handing them, each one, to his lovely Juliet, Ms. Vishneva. The crowd is enraptured. The perfect happy ending—flowers scattered at the lovers’ feet and overflowing in Juliet’s arms. Happy ever after—for all of us.