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Bolshoi Ballet - 'Romeo and Juliet'

This century's star crossed lovers

by Dean Speer

October 28, 2004 -- Paramount Theatre, Seattle, Washington

The Bolshoi Ballet’s new production of "Romeo and Juliet" is, well, “bolshoi.” Big in every way. An over-the-top evening in the theatre. And it’s very Russian. Sincere, heart-felt, totally committed to what they’re doing.

It’s somewhat like Eifman’s productions but to better music. And it’s also like his work as it’s a production directed by a non-dancer/choreographer, Englishman Declan Donnellan and with steps set by a Moldavian dancer/choreographer Radu Poklitaru. (At least this production correctly credits the choreographer, who in some press has been titled “step-setter.” By the way, I still don’t know WHO actually choreographs Eifman’s ballets. Certainly not Eifman, as he’s not a dancer.)

There is not one ballet step or movement in the entire work. Well, okay, there WERE a couple of arabesques and one showing of grand jetés to the side by one of the men, but it’s really a foray into, what is for this old ballet company, contemporary modern dance. I could also tell that they were coached to move in a “naturalistic” manner and not with that same kind of inner movement strength and energetic fire dancers tend to develop if they have true technique. To not “show” their technique.

During intermission a dance teacher friend and I had a very interesting conversation with a somewhat confused gentleman and his wife, who approached us with questions. It was clear that they thought they were coming to see the Bolshoi Ballet and got instead the “Bolshoi Modern Dance Company.” While we confirmed they were not seeing any traditional ballet movement or choreography, we did encourage them to think about whether they were enjoying it or not and how it made them feel. Did it work as story? Did it work as theatre? This was a new arena for the Bolshoi.

I found myself enjoying many of the scenes and thought the use of the corps de ballet to represent the two houses a good tool. Much of the movement is like Graham and as one print critic put it, some ideas seem to be lifted right out of Jooss’s "The Green Table." There were a few oddities such as Romeo stabbing himself in the tomb scene (he’s supposed to take poison) and a suggestion early on – all right, actually it was lots (of hip-thrusting and Lady Capulet clinging to her son Tybald in an unnatural way) – that the House of Capulet was an incestuous one.

As I mentioned earlier all of the cast were 100 percent into what they were doing and do it well they did. Corps member Anastasia Meskova and Leading Soloist Yan Godovsky as Romeo were terrific in their assignments as was the amazing Timofey Lavrenyuk as a gay Mercutio who prods and annoys Tybald into a fight, leading to the deaths of both.

While I did appreciate and enjoy many aspects of this new production, a couple of things come to mind. One is the high irony of the company for whom Prokofiev wrote this score jettisoning the entire, original production. The other is that as much as the dancers were into it, I think it’s a waste of this great company’s resources to impose a work on it that could have been done by dance-trained actors or a good modern dance company. It would have been more exciting to have taken the ballet vocabulary and pushed it and used it in a contemporary way to effect. I’m sure it was a golden opportunity for the director and choreographer (probably commissioned by the new Artistic Director), but I don’t think it extended and advanced the art of ballet. If anything, it was a dumbing down for these great dance artists with a piece of third-generation modern dance that believes itself to be great art. Great theatre? Yes and very "bolshoi."

Edited by Jeff.

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