I'm just back in the country, so I speak without having seen this new production of "Romeo and Juliet". However, there are some general comments that can be made about approches to radical works from audiences and critics.
A lot of disappointment with performances and other areas arises from unrealised expectations. I know of a terrific modern ballet version of "Coppelia" which disturbs some audience members who were expecting the traditional version. I also saw a Gala in Tallinn by Kirov dancers that was being used by a young choreographer and his team to perform new work and this also generated a lot of glum faces. Thus, I would expect those who bought tickets, expecting a conventional ballet performance, to be disappointed. Maybe Max Hastings is in this category.
On the other hand, the critics would have had a good idea to expect an off-pointe, radical work and have also been severe on the production. I remember the reviews for the Lyons Opera Ballet "Cendrillon" where at least one critic commented at their disappointment about the use of the music from the ball scene, as compared with traditional productions and this perspective could be described as "it's not what I'm used to". This can also apply where writers judge a performance by its closeness to a legendary portrayal. I suspect that this approach is particularly prevalent among writers, like myself, who have never been dancers and thus depend to a large extent for their credibility on their experience watching dance.
Cassandra makes a different point:
...it was an interesting piece with some striking ideas and had a smaller contemporary company taken on this ballet I would probably have rated it more highly. But danced by the Bolshoi I simply couldn’t get over the feeling that these glorious dancers were being criminally wasted.
I can see this argument and we may see an extreme case later this season when Jerome Bel, a minimalist, conceptual dance artist makes a work for Paris Opera Ballet. Personally I would be concerned if a company like the Bolshoi was excluded from performing ballet theatre works that stretched the dancers dramatically, rather than technically. One of the most interesting new ballets I have seen in the past two years has been "Cassandra" by Luciano Cannito. This is also off-pointe and is emotionally rather than technically demanding. Nevertheless, for one strong dancer who performs this role, it is among her favorites.
I have no idea how I would have reacted to this new "Romeo and Juliet", but I have sympathy with your approach to the review Lyndsey, which I would summarise as expectation free and asking the question: "What do I think the artists involved are trying to achieve and how well have they succeeded?" I see Ismene Brown has also followed this approach in the review below.
<small>[ 08 August 2004, 11:16 AM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>