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Mariinsky Ballet

'Romeo and Juliet'

by Catherine Pawlick

May 21, 2011 -- Mariinsky Theatre, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Following debuts in “Don Quixote” and “Swan Lake” last week, Saturday night witnessed one more Mariinsky debut this month when second soloist Maria Shirinkina appeared as Juliet alongside principal dancer Vladimir Schklyarov in “Romeo and Juliet.”

Now in her fifth season, Shirinkina’s delicate appearance has made her a frequent choice for roles
such as Amour in “Don Quixote” or the Peasant Pas de deux in “Giselle.” But her repertoire has
expanded exponentially in recent months to include roles such as one of the three couples in Jerome
Robbins’ “In the Night” which she danced at this year’s Mariinsky Festival in April, or any of the leads in “Chopiniana.” Small of stature with bones that suggest a pre-pubescent nymph, Shirinkina is a contradiction to today’s trend of long legato ladies. Tiny, light, her bone structure is a rarity even within the ballet world, and it seems the time is now ripe for roles of more weight. And hence, Juliet.

While Shirinkina’s performance was thoroughly rehearsed, and technically she danced flawlessly, the question in a dramatic role such as this is whether or not the nature of the character is transmitted to the audience. In Shirinkina’s case, there were elements of her own signature that brought delight for their uniqueness. Her Juliet appeared a timid schoolgirl upon first entrance, focused – aptly — more on playing with her nurse than accepting her role as a girl who has come of age. Uncertain of her new roleas a “woman”, she assumes a serious posture parading in front of Lady Capulet, displaying her new dress with a stiff neck and regal arms as she presumes an adult would do. The exaggeration here was effective – this Juliet isn’t yet fully matured, and the demonstration proves it.

True to the libretto, Shirinkina’s Juliet initially seemed awed by the attention given her at the banquet, but she danced willingly with Paris, performed with apt noble airs by Alexander Parish, smiling with the discovery of being courted by a gentleman. Later, stamping her foot in frustration during her refusal to marry Paris, or rising on her toes at Romeo’s kiss – these details brought a sense of individuality to Shirinkina’s performance that promise even more development in the future.

Vladimir Schklyarov’s youthful Romeo greeted the full house with verve and exuberance. Shklyarov’s is a Romeo full of life, the dreamy poet intent on settling the feud between the Capulets and Montagues because of the love in his heart for Juliet. Characterizing this boyish charm in choreographic terms are Schklyarov’s airborne jumps, each one pushing the limit of both flexibility and balloon, whether cutting across the stage or soaring high with the joy of newfound love. His passion was evident the moment he greeted Juliet; his grief deeply felt when Benvolio delivers the news of her death. Here is a polished performer – not that there was ever any doubt—who can carry the entire performance on his own shoulders, if need be, and he does it always with charm, grace, and professionalism. Schklyarov is a rare jewel in the ranks of the Mariinsky’s men, and one we can never quite get enough of.

Completing the cast, the incomparable Alexander Sergeyev as the fun-loving Mercutio, a role that, in the Lavrovsky version, is hardly a secondary character. Sergeyev’s sharp attack, playful humor and lighthearted ease even during the serious fencing scenes made his Mercutio genuine to the core. He fought his death to the very end, making Romeo’s urgent need for revenge completely understandable. Schklyarov’s immediate attack on Tybalt (danced by veteran in the role Ilya Kuznetsov) suddenly seemed justified and unquestionable. But the moment of passion passed, Romeo looks up into the on-stage house, Juliet in the window peering down at her dead brother, and the gravity of these warring tribes truly hits home.

In the final Act, the pain at his separation from Juliet in flight to Mantua was visible on Schklyarov’s
face, but the news of Juliet’s own fate hit him far harder. He raced to find her, but took her hand in his just moments before swiftly downing his own poison, as if to suggest even that last act must occur with her by his side.

For the evening, Boris Gruzin conducted.

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