Russian State Ballet: Romeo and Juliet

I’m still mildly weepy after seeing the Russian State Ballet perform Romeo and Juliet at the Fox. The thing about Lavrovsky’s choreography for it is that, while no individual scene is particularly great, the ballet taken as a whole is probably the best narrative ballet of the story. MacMillan’s has some great scenes — and I love his Dance of the Knights more than almost any scene in any other ballet — but it’s a little choppy and so it isn’t so much moving as it is just a pleasure to watch. Maillot’s brings out the playful parts exceptionally well and will make you see what made Romeo want Juliette so much, but the stylized violence makes the gravity of the conflict feel much less substantive and I don’t think that his variations on the story, such as the play-within-a-play puppet show, add anything of value to the narrative. (Also, to be frank, I think that we’ll find the mise en scene to be horribly dated in 15 years or so, if his ballet lasts that long.) I’ve only seen Gregorovich’s choreography on DVD, so I might have a different opinion if I were to see it performed live, but nothing about it stuck with me but that it seemed work with the music more than any other production that I’ve seen; though I felt that was at the expense of coherency and the story. That is all to say, Lavrovsky’s choreography is the only version that is really able to leave me feeling weepy at the end because it does the best job of drawing me into the story.

The sets for this production were simple backdrops. The ones used for the exterior scenes didn’t match up very well — the drops to the rear sides depicted colonnades from two different buildings and looked like there were cut off on their interior edges and the drop that they flanked looked like it was designed to hang stage left. This lent the production a rather cheap look but the costumes were decent enough (except for a few stains on Juliet’s dress that broke up her lines but ended up swapped out during intermission) and once the dancing really began it really didn’t matter what was hanging behind the dancers.

The music was canned and sounded less than pleasant. I’m not sure if its the sound systems or the sound techs, but I almost always find the sound of recorded music to be rather grating at the Fox and also at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center. I’m listening to a recording of Prokofiev’s score performed by the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine that I found on YouTube on my $20 computer speakers as I write this and it sounds heads and shoulders better than what the score sounded like at the Fox even though I can pick out compression artifacts during the sections with richer instrumentation. And, of course, the recording was not credited in the program.

The performance was delightful. There are two or three dancers listed in the program, so I cannot call them out by name. (With my problem recognizing people, they could have used multiple dancers for each role and I’d not have realized it, but I don’t think that was done.) The leads were mostly significantly taller than the rest, which, even if the costuming wasn’t enough, made them pop out in the ensemble scenes much more. Juliet was performed better in the dramatic scenes than the playful ones. Her greater height extended her lines beautifully and it was truly delightful to see her move. Romeo, however, seemed less believable for his greater height. He was tall, fair-haired, and had a slightly muscular build. He excelled more through athleticism than gracefulness, but certainly was never bad. They kept him dressed mostly in white. The dancer who played Mercutio, however, was a short, slight man from Eastern Europe, with brunette hair parted in the middle, who wore black and purple. Add a beard and he’d be almost as sexy as me. It is just hard to believe that, in a story about love at first sight, that Juliet would choose a Romeo who looked like this one over someone like the man who danced Mercutio.

Joking aside, Mercutio was as amazing a dancer as he was good looking. The role is a great deal of fun — even up to his drawn-out death scene — and it requires great strength but even more finesse to be done well, with its clownish athleticism. He drew a great deal of applause at the end. His role and Juliet’s Friend are both stand-outs in Lavrovsky’s choreography and take as much skill as the eponymous characters, if much less endurance.

I really wish that we had more ballet in Atlanta. Beyond that, I really wish that we had more classical and neoclassical ballet. I don’t have a problem with Atlanta Ballet focusing on contemporary ballet, but I don’t see why they can’t have even one piece that’s over 25 years old each season. I know that they only have the ability to do four main-stage shows a year, but if they have the time and budget to do modern dance pieces then I think that it’s not asking much that they find a way to fit in at least one or two of the classics. Regardless, and despite my frequent complaints regarding their ability to stage them well, I’m glad that they bring contemporary works to us that we’d otherwise not get to see. And we do occasionally have some touring companies to remind us of how rich the historical repertoire is.

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