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Kirov Ballet - 'Romeo and Juliet'

by Catherine Pawlick

July 20, 2006 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg

In the second debut this week (the first being Daria Pavlenko’s Zobeide in “Scheherezade” -- to read the review, click here), Daria Sukhoroukova and Sergei Popov joined forces to debut in the leading roles of Leonid Lavrovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet”. The sense of expressive, clean emotion that both dancers brought to their respective roles lent the performance a sense of freshness not always found in the classics and made for an intriguing evening.

As Juliet, Sukhoroukova was a genuine, nervous young girl caught between her parents’ designs and her own heart. Graced with an impossibly lithe figure, the slimmest arms in the entire company, and incredibly flexible legs that end in beautifully arched feet, Sukhoroukova amply depicted the rapture and pure emotion of untarnished, new love and just as clearly showed us the impulsive reactivity of a young girl who has lost everything that gives her life meaning. Her partnership with Popov was appropriate in three respects: the two share the same generation of Vaganova training, his height complements hers, and they simultaneously dove into brand new roles, making for a fairly weighted level of dramatism.

In her initial dance with Paris at the ball, Sukhoroukova reacted politely and shyly to his courtship behavior. She was pleased to receive so much attention, but her heart wasn’t stolen until the moment her eyes locked with Romeo’s during her variation at the ball.

For his handsomer- than- thou princely looks – curly blonde locks, a long if lanky frame, and expressive face – Popov is an obvious choice for the role of Romeo. Surprisingly, despite his lack of articulation in the metatarsal, he managed to portray the hero in vibrant tones from his first entrance. If one awaited a duller Romeo, one would have been surprised, for Popov’s version was unexpectedly refined. His only challenge seemed to be in the strength required for some of the most challenging lifts in the Kirov’s repertoire. (It must be noted, Sukhoroukova is as weightless as a ballerina can be).  Popov completed all of the lifts, but with time and strength the initially visible tremor will make way to absolutely seamless handling.

The lovers’ death scene was not drenched in a sense of panic, but rather rational thought. It was as if Sukhoroukova thought, “The poison is gone, what else can I use? Oh, here we are, a knife.” One hadn’t the sense of a teenager driven by hormones-in-overdrive so much as a young adult solving a problem with the only means she saw possible (albeit in 15th century terms). Popov’s approach to Romeo was similar. One had the sense he was in love and did the best he could with the circumstances given him.

The casting for this performance offered more points of interest. Alongside Dmitrii Pikhachev’s expert Tybalt was Islam Baimuradov as Benvolio. One doesn’t often see two of the company’s dramatic authorities together in the same performance, so this was indeed a treat. Unfortunately, the restrictions of Benvolio in the libretto meant that Baimuradov could not quite dig his acting chops in as far as he has done in the role of Tybalt, but nonetheless his characterization made for a stronger trio on the Montague side. Pikhachev as Tybalt was his usual despicable self. As mentioned in other reviews, a Kirov performance of “Romeo” is worth seeing simply for Pikhachev (or Baimuradov) as Tybalt.

More than one eyebrow was raised when Yana Selina, as Juliet’s best friend, displayed 180 degree penchees en pointe in her pas de deux with Troubador Maxim Zuizin. Her back was upright throughout, and the rest of her dancing was controlled and graceful.

As Mercutio, one anticipated fireworks from Andrei Mercuriev, but oddly his interpretation was watered-down. He was serious in his initial entrance, before persuading Romeo and Benvolio to join him at the ball, but jolly as could be during his variation at the ball. Mercutio’s death sequence is arguably one of the longest onstage death scenes in musical terms, and as such poses obvious challenges to the dancer. Up until that point, at least in this performance, one didn’t have the chance to form the requisite emotional attachment to the character which makes his death all the more impactful. On the one hand the effect disappointed, but on the other it made Popov’s Romeo appear even more vengeful in his own attack on Tybalt.

Also noteworthy were Tatiana Goriunova as Juliet’s Nurse and Sergei Salikov as Paris. As the Nurse, Goriunova painted a pleasing picture of the lovable, tumbly, maternal caretaker, filling her scenes with a sense of gaiety and humor. Salikov could not have been more narcissistic, or more offended, when Juliet finally resisted his advances.

The performance – replete with some difficulty coming from an odd-sounding horn instrument – was conducted by Pavel Bubelnikov.

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