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Bolshoi Ballet - 'Romeo and Juliet'

Marriage of old and new lacks innovation and cohesion

by Rebecca Hirschman

November 5, 2004 -- Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, California

Lar Lubovitch’s “Othello” and Mark Morris’ “Syliva” are two examples of contemporary retellings of stories from days gone by. They combine ballet, modern, and folk movements to create a new version of what we thought we knew. While potentially controversial and not for all tastes, they have succeeded in a new telling of the old. I had similar hopes for the Bolshoi Ballet’s “new” take on “Romeo and Juliet.” While I knew that the work didn’t include tutus or pointe shoes, I hoped that something new would present itself.

Directed by British theater director Declan Donnellan and choreographed by Moldavian Radu Poklitaru, the Bolshoi’s modern “Romeo and Juliet” echoes of “West Side Story” meets movement theatre (the opening scene made me want to snap my fingers and sing “When you're a Jet…”). With a minimalist storyline, we meet Romeo, Juliet, a cross-dressing Mercutio, and an incestuous Lady Capulet (with Tybald, no less). The basic plot, though pared down to the necessities, stayed the same: Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love on the spot. Family pouts and stomps. Etc. etc. etc.

Simply put, this “Romeo and Juliet” is no ballet. Probably the most disappointing aspect of “Romeo and Juliet” is the fact that dance itself (whether it’s ballet or modern) failed to make an appearance. Sure, there’s movement, but it is pedestrian and is continuously repeated to the point of becoming ineffective. The ballet steps are fleeting, and seem inconsistent with the more ordinary and quirky movements, often in unison, that fill the rest of the work. The lone arabesques, pirouette variances, and sautés that are utilized are interspersed in between posing, rash arm movements, and unsupported choreographic choices; this causes a lack of momentum throughout the piece. While corps dancer Anastasia Meskova as the naïve Juliet seemed the most at ease, the entire company had trouble delivering the Broadway dance-type sequences, Britney Spears pelvic gyrations, and flexed-feet requirements.

What a shame, because they’re obviously trying! The corps is used well, at times representing townsfolk, the two warring families, and the supportive foundation of a budding relationship, but perhaps a more experienced choreographer would have developed the movement vocabulary to a higher degree. Instead, it appeared elementary and muddy.

This confusion also transcended to the costuming, which ranged from top hats and tails to Company B-type outfits and “Stepford Wives” dresses; the lack of consistency again detracted from the overall performance. Maybe minimalist costuming, like the interesting and underused cubic and rectangular set design, would have helped.The Bolshoi Orchestra, though, performed Prokofiev’s score admirably with ease and energy.

The Bolshoi’s “Romeo and Juliet” feels more like a theatre piece. The static direction and lack of choreographic imagination hinder the work’s development, and it’s one that doesn’t break new ground or present an original view of the traditional storyline. From gyrations and posing to random breakdancing moves, the choreography lacks a maturity that we have come to expect from one of the top international dance companies. While the full house at Zellerbach seemed to enjoy the work, I feel that Donnellan and Poklitaru’s version did little to enhance the storyline or dance prowess normally associated with this ever-traditional ballet.

Edited by Jeff.

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