‘Romeo and Juliet'
by Catherine Pawlick
July 16, 2004 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia
Was it uncertainty or unwillingness? Certainly not the latter, as most dancers dream of such roles. And as for the former – hours of rehearsal time seem to suggest there would be no place for doubt in the dance’s delivery. And yet, so it was. Friday night’s performance of “Romeo and Juliet” on the Mariinsky stage had more than a few moments of hesitation and an overall cool representation of the star-crossed lovers, with only tastes here and there of the passion that can carry this ballet forward.
Of particular note during the evening was in fact neither Romeo nor Juliet but several other characters who carried the ballet forward. Leonid Sarafanov was a taller, leaner Mercutio than most companies will cast, but his playful spirit and expert technique made him stand out from his fellow Montague cohorts. Likewise, Juliet’s best friend, danced by Ekaterina Osmolkina, offered the long-necked, effortless grace and continuous movement that should be brought to the lead female role in this ballet. One wanted to see her as Juliet, and hopefully audiences soon will be able to.
So, for a ballet that premiered on this stage 64 years ago, one would expect to have been greeted by perfection and swept away by passion in this tale of love, but unfortunately for whatever reason, that wasn’t the rule of the evening. While Irina Zhelonkina was a delicate Juliet, her passion was visible only in the scene with the priest when she obtains the poison, and again during Paris’ visit to her bedroom following Romeo’s departure. At these moments she was visibly, tangibly distraught, now asking the priest for help, now staring blankly into the distance as if her soul had left her when Romeo did. As she tore herself from Paris’ advances, one began to understand that she can act, and emote. But for some reason the chemistry with her Romeo was tepid at best.
Andrei Yakovlev, as Romeo, in turn didn’t take full advantage of musical opportunity to emote. Compared to some of the more famous Romeos in recent years, his acting was lukewarm at best. When he heard news of Juliet’s death for example, he was perhaps stunned, but hardly moved to show it, simply staring blankly ahead, and then running offstage to find her. Likewise, during Mercutio’s death, he seemingly wasn’t sure where or to whom to react, so simply picked up the sword and headed for Tybalt. Lacking was the thought process behind the character’s movements, which, in Shakespeare, is every bit the key to the plot.
The pair’s partnering sequences were reserved, and in some unlikely cases – during the balcony scene, or bedroom pas, for example – wobbly. Yakovlev is strong enough, as he demonstrated in the death scene, carrying Zhelonkina single-handedly around the stage with him, over one shoulder, or over his head in the form of a cross. Perhaps the two dancers simply haven’t worked together long enough, for the unsteady moments weren’t explainable. It wasn’t a question of not knowing the choreography either, it was simply a lack of continuity and flow, and several awkward repositionings that detracted from key scenes throughout the ballet.
And yet there were some noteworthy moments, which included the famous sword-fighting scenes in Act One that had the audience riveted, and the ballroom scene, which, in this, Leonid Lavrovsky’s version, opens to the members of the ball seated at banquet tables, Tybalt jumping up on the table to give a toast, then followed by the heavy ballroom “march” music.
The Kirov dancers have everything
it takes to make a fantastic "Romeo"; hopefully this was just
an anomaly and the next time round will be as dashing as their heritage.
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