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Bolshoi Ballet

'Romeo and Juliet'

Love in the modern age

by Julia-Skene Wenzel

July 28, 2004 -- The Royal Opera House, London

After a turbulent five years and four artistic directors later, the Bolshoi is back in London, eager to assert its status as one of the world’s leading ballet companies. Its program features a winning spectrum of trademark classics, the reconstruction of Petipa’s first success, "The Pharaoh’s daughter" and a radical, new interpretation of "Romeo and Juliet". The latter designed to mark the Bolshoi’s decisive departure into the 21st century.

British theatre director Declan Donnellan, respected and admired in Russia for his innovative theatre work, was given the opportunity to create a contemporary version of this classic tale of star-crossed lovers. In collaboration with choreographer Radu Poklitaru, he aimed to reveal its essence, the mythical character behind the Shakespeare story. The result is a piece of dance theatre, focusing on the main story line only: the love between Romeo and Juliet and the fatal fight between Mercutio and Tybalt.

Framed by the corps de ballet, the story unfolds in Nicholas Ormerod’s minimalist setting of coloured cubes. Stripped of pointe shoes, lavish costumes and virtuosi, the cast is battling through a brave new world. But while Anastasia Meskova rises to the challenge and is able to breathe life into Juliet, the choreography proves too much for most. Stuck between Mats Ek’s modernist style and Jerome Robbin’s memorable choreography for "West Side Story", Poklitaru does not manage to distinguish individual characters. With relentlessly high jumps and jerky wiggles the Montagues and Capulets hover around the scenes like a Greek chorus, pulling the strings of fate, while Romeo and Juliet explore each other with childlike bliss.

Keeping the lovers apart was one of Donnellan’s main aims - separation being the ultimate fear of anyone who loves, and he paints his vision in bold images, like the corps de ballet transforming into a giant balcony that prevents the lovers from touching. However, within these elaborate symbols and the somehow already dated choreography, the core of the story quietly fades away. The power of Romeo and Juliet is love - love that elevates above the mortal body, love that unites spirits and lives forever, but this production is so focused on being modern that it turns cold.

The Covent Garden audience reacted with mixed feelings. There was general recognition for the effort that had gone into this production and the significant step the Bolshoi has taken here. But this is another case where less would have been more. By breaking with all of ballet’s traditions, this production has lost its heart and its place. A venue more affiliated with modern dance might have minimised the impact of the latter.

In an interview with Dance Europe, Alexandrova gives an insight to its reception in Moscow. She feels that “the young people especially have accepted it wholeheartedly. This production is about them. It is about now. How life happens in Moscow. It is not ten years before or ten years later, it is exactly about the present time”. Taking this into consideration, it does not feel right to condemn this production. Capturing the zeitgeist of Moscow and the Bolshoi, it is a sign of its time. We shall look forward to the future.


Edited by Jeff.

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