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Yuri Grigorovich Krasnodar Ballet Theatre

'Romeo and Juliet'

by Catherine Pawlick

August 8, 2005 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg

This summer St. Petersburg witnessed several ballet versions of the Shakespeare classic, “Romeo and Juliet.” Last month the Bolshoi Ballet visited, bringing with it Declan Donnelan’s strangely avant-garde interpretation. The Kirov Ballet regularly performs Leonid Lavrovsky’s version in their repertoire. And in August, as part of their two-week visit to St. Petersburg, Yuri Grigorovich’s Krasnodar Ballet Theatre danced a revised version by Grigorovich to a sold out house at the Mariinsky Theatre.

Grigorovich’s version remains, at core, classical, but his main alterations prompt the occasional raised eyebrow, which is rare for most of his rather traditional creations. As in Donnelan’s production, Grigorovich has rearranged the Prokofiev score, and in neither case does it further the dancing, the drama or the storyline. Classics are classics for a reason, but apparently the trend of late to rearrange musical chronology has been too compelling to pass up. The ballet begins to the sword fight music, and only in Act Two does the usual Act One introductory music begin. Other sections are also shuffled about, and the result to a classical balletomane is akin to hearing the alphabet out of order: one wants to put it right again.

In other respects, however, Grigorovich’s changes are pleasing and remain within the realm of classical ballet confines. For every scene, his stage is divided into two sections: a transparent scrim with several steps leading up to a second level separates downstage from upstage. The upstage area is Juliet’s bedroom, then her balcony, part of the townspeople’s thoroughfare, and Friar Lawrence’s church, respectively. Downstage is where nearly all of the action takes place.

For the August 8 performance, Iin Dayune was a love-infected, passionate and feeling-infused Romeo with a floating grand jete and air-filled jumps. His expressions of ecstasy, anger and grief were easily understandable and well projected. Juliet, danced by Anna Zhukova, first greeted the audience in the bedroom scene with her nurse in a knee-length empire waist single-layer of chiffon. The effect made her look pregnant, and was perhaps the sole costuming misjudgment in the production, but her fluid, long arms and well-chiseled legs compensated. Zhukova’s interpretation of the role was rather cool. If Dayune was ecstatic at each opportunity to gaze at or dance with her, Zhukova was more concerned with the beauty in the choreography than with her Romeo. The result was a lop-sided love affair, with Zhukova going through the motions, but Dayune actually living them.

The choreography in this “Romeo” has some intriguing moments. In Romeo and Juliet’s first encounter at the ball, their eyes lock and they both walk in a circle, staring at each other. He then kisses her skirt and she runs offstage. The first steps of the grand waltz have been changed as well: it begins with a brush relevé rond de jambe from devant to attitude à la seconde, a movement that is repeated throughout the section and part of Tybalt’s repeated dance vocabulary. Mercutio’s choreography is paired down to the parallel-legged basics, and includes only one silly moment when he does a head/shoulder-stand, his back to the audience, his legs in double passé and then both extended out to second, and back again. The rest of his movements were more space-encompassing and less technical. Nonetheless, Vadim Slatvitskii in the role received a warm reception. Throughout Juliet’s steps there is ample use of the arabesque, a signature line for this ballet that luckily has been carefully kept.

Act Two’s wedding scene doesn’t show the journey thereto, rather simply Romeo and Juliet already being blessed by Friar Lawrence. Beside them six monks in black hooded costumes hold single candles, as if foreshadowing the deaths that are to come. When Juliet’s friends and parents arrive the morning of her wedding, her father carries her limp body, already dressed in wedding gown, in his arms. These little alterations from Lavrovsky’s, Cranko’s or Macmillan’s versions will take getting used to. ­At first glance, they’re a bit unusual to the eye.

Another unique change lies in Juliet’s post-potion dance, which, much like the final scene in MacMillan’s “Manon”, is a dream sequence. Here both Tybalt and Mercutio reappear dancing around her and foreshadowing her fate. In the suicide sequence, Romeo has ample time after downing his own poison to see and dance with Juliet before she stabs herself.

While not always quite as lyrical or as technically deep as MacMillan’s version, Grigorovich’s “Romeo” incorporates a fresh approach to the staging of this centuries-old ballet, including use of his own choreographic style, and considerable continuity of both movement and drama. He can be lauded for reworking the ballet without unduly sullying its core components (the chronology of the musical score, of course, withstanding), and for promoting the consistency of his own choreographic signature on yet another full-length ballet. Few are the choreographers that can offer a revision to a cornerstone of the classical ballet repertoire without swinging too far into the avant-garde spectrum. Grigorovich is an exception, and his ability to envision “Romeo” from his own still-classical vantage point is an accomplishment.

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