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Kirov Ballet - London 2005

'Romeo and Juliet'

by Cassandra

July 22 and 23 (matinee), 2005 -- Royal Opera House, London

Leonid Lavrovsky’s production of Romeo and Juliet was the first successful version of this repertory staple and it is fair to say that it has influenced every balletic production that has followed it. Over the years it has undergone minor changes, but the original spirit of the work remains.

What distinguishes this production from others is the use of the corps de ballet at the expense of the soloists, as one dance of townsfolk is followed by another with little involvement with the named characters. It is as if in creating a sense of renaissance Verona, the choreographer has at times concentrated too much on detail to the detriment of the plot.

I’ve often felt that each production of this ballet that I’ve seen (and I’ve seen many) has some outstanding moment that the others haven't; and in this Lavrovsky version I never fail to be moved by the wedding scene in Friar Lawrence’s cell. That wonderful moment before Juliet arrives when Romeo examines the skull left on the Friar’s table and ponders on his own mortality, then as Juliet enters he strews flowers before her as she approaches what is to be both their marriage and their death. True inspiration!

The first cast of Diana Vishneva and Andrian Fadeyev looked good on paper, but didn’t quite work for me. Vishneva makes a very spirited Juliet, one who would have rebelled against those over-bearing parents of hers anyway before too long. As her Romeo Fadeyev looked the business, handsome and romantic and dancing on the top of his form, but there was precious little chemistry between the pair and Vishneva’s passion for her much cooler lover seemed to me a bit misplaced.

As Mercutio, Leonid Sarafanov quite simply stole the show: this is the best role I’ve seen him do so far. Still looking overly young on stage, he turned this to his advantage with the chubby cheeked mask he wears to the Capulets ball, looking uncannily like a caricature of his own face. He danced with an effortless clarity and precision that is seen all too infrequently, and his death scene was devastating because of the shock of seeing the slaughter of someone little more than a kid. Sarafanov has been criticized as getting too much too soon, but this was an exceptionally fine performance. Other noteworthy performances came from Islom Baimuradov as a rather cynical, world-weary Benvolio and a beautiful display of impeccable classicism from the ever-impressive Vasily Scherbakov.

The second cast lovers, Irina Golub and Andrei Merkuriev, made an extremely well matched pair. Merkuriev’s Romeo was ardent and headstrong with only some partnering blips in the bedroom pas de deux revealing his relative inexperience. As his Juliet, Golub (who is a real beauty by the way) gave a much softer, more dreamy interpretation of the role and looked far more vulnerable in the scenes with her dreadful parents than the more forceful Vishneva.

Mercutio on this occasion was Scherbakov, who hinted at the ambiguities of one of Shakespeare’s most complex characters and had the advantage of playing opposite Dmitri Pykhachev as Tybalt, who, although far from being ideal, was still a vast improvement on the over-the-top-and-down-the-other-side Ilya Kuznetsov, who turned Tybalt into a pantomime villain the night before. Lavrovsky’s concept of this character was and is entirely wrong and in need of some urgent revision.

One more gripe: the final scene of reconciliation between the warring families was virtually invisible to most of the audience, due to poor lighting. I know this scene takes place at night, but we should still be able to see what is happening.

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