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Moscow City Ballet - ROMEO AND JULIET

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I have written a review of a performance I saw last night at the Richmond Theatre.  I have typed this on Word.  I don't have much luck with copying this over here, but I will try - and hope it appears in some reasonable format.  Please forgive my technical ignorance if it does not come across with any kind of reasonable coherence.  (Please know that it LOOKS ok on my screen just now .. .but that is I've found to my cost no guarantee of BcoF published respectability :) I have used the 'Paste from Word' icon and replenished those spaces where they seemed to have disappeared in the copying over from the original.


In the spirit of nothing ventured; nothing gained ... Here she blows ....  


Moscow City Ballet … Romeo and Juliet … Richmond Theatre … 26.2.2014

As ever with Moscow City Ballet one is enchanted by the ideas embedded within.  That happily remains the hotbed of this Company’s wealth.  It intrigues.   
Last night a large but not always well behaved audience filled the Richmond Theatre.  (Attention the woman in the row opposite me in the stalls who, even when shushed by many, insisted on noisily unwrapping copious sweets to fill her already fulsome frame even during the most quiet bits of Prokofiev’s divine score as carefully led by Igor Shavruk and determinedly – if sometimes sketchily - played by the Moscow City Ballet Orchestra.)  


Colour dominated this production from the outset until, of course, rightfully clouded in the last act.  The dazzling red copula of Verona’s State House stood supreme over the first two sectional forays in a carefully wrought perspective.  Here one was continually reminded that there did exist an outside and very real balance that might well hold sway even in face of the societal disarray which led in front.  The unit set, off set by the brilliance of its Italianate cardinal glow, stood quite apart  from, say, the current design of the Royal Ballet’s production of the much loved MacMillan text.  The colours were far from muted in this production by the recently late Moscow City Ballet director Victor Smirnov-Golovanov as drawn from the contributing resources of Sergei Radlov, Adrian Pirtrovsky and Leonid Lavrovsky. 

A few telling points that appeared in my frame:

-          From the very opening strains, the motif of the societal cost of the dead was clearly evidenced.  It was as if the entire proceedings were etched in a balanced flashback.  The musical motifs were clearly highlighted in this regard. The visual motif would not only begin the proceedings but vividly end both the second and third acts.  In the Moscow City Ballet’s last act opening Juliet is discovered praying on her bed alone.  She awaits Romeo’s return.  He does so, now illegally.  Could that act have been seen through her eyes?  Perhaps.  She had, after all, been the first to discover the dead body of Tybalt in the act previous soon to be joined in equal despair by both her parents.  Physically above that fray the Duke of Verona was clearly seen to banish Romeo.  This defined not only his but everyone’s defiance and clearly gave root/momentum to the last act.  As I have said before elsewhere, it is that banishment which makes this play a tragedy in the classic sense.  For me any production of this legend no matter what the medium rises or falls by the clarity of that specific depiction.  This production (as, say, the balletic takes of Ratmansky and Ashton) blessedly make that clear.

-          The opening Capulet Feast is here led zealously from the front in a solo by Tybalt (well danced by the talented Kanat Nadyrbek) who we have first seen presenting Juliet with a red dress that she will wear largely throughout.  (It will be left to Paris to understandably present the wedding dress in the last act.)  The familial bond between Juliet and Tybalt is here closely etched.   The men having dominated those now famous dominant strains at the opening of the feast it is left to the female friends of Juliet (here all gloriously taller than so many of their male counterparts replete with the largess of their willowy ‘Balanchinian’ limbs refreshingly choreographed to withstand the constant flux of over extension) to enter and introduce Paris.  [The enchanting Rosaline of young Ekaterina Odarenko is especially enhanced by the lofty regard of her considerable instep. One would be eager to see her tackle the title role.]  The music given to the mandolin players in the Royal’s second act is here split three ways.  One part is given over to the joyful glee of Romeo’s team of four (which includes Mercutio and Benvolio).  This dance occurs just after Romeo has first engaged with Juliet.  That moment is refreshingly not ‘over’-emphasised here.  It occurs because: ‘Stuff happens’ as today’s youth are wont to say.  Somehow this interim gives added depth to the re-appearance of the instantaneous lovers thereafter.  There is no balcony at the end of this act where, of course, MacMillian (as so oft) wins hands down in the pas de deux stakes.  In this instance there are just too many (and somewhat repetitive) ideas stuffed within the pas’ frame.  Indeed it somewhat bursts its own seems.  It and we, as always, need a certain space to breathe.  Still, no harm is done, there has been such vivid imagination deployed otherwise.  It is the overall details that captivate. 

-          The music for the Royal’s first act trio of the three lads – Romeo, Benvolio and Mercutio -  delightfully opens the second act of the Moscow City Ballet’s production.  Brilliant.  The mime, as is so often the case in many Russian balletic texts in my experience, is broad where it has not been excised altogether.    There is a wonderful moment here after Romeo has dashed to Friar Lawrence’s cell, when the goodly father – in preparation for the marriage has turned his back to pray.  The two lovers understandably simply can’t resist each other – both turning away as the goodly father turns back in humane suspicion.  He does so twice.  [The laughter from the audience at those points held a most telling character-filled balm.]  When the friar gives them permission to rightfully kiss it is an explosion we can all share as Romeo holds the figure of his joy aloft.  This production is almost entirely told through dance not pantomine.  (Balanchine’s dictum ‘See the music; hear the dance’ rings ripe again.)  [To wit: the music that in the Royal’s production is given over to the shifting departure of certain personages and their bath chairs from the Capulet ball is here devoted to a wonderful dance establishing the noble attractions of Paris as was attractively danced by Andrei Zhuravlev.]  The majority of the mandolin dance music is here danced by a team of female players dressed as young lads replete with … erm … mandolins who invite in Romeo’s team of four.  It is at this point they introduce their foils.  It is a clever juxtaposition.  (The fights here are not overwhelming in their expanse but readily built in terms of focus. In the first act’s opening the city lads fight choreographically, as they might, with their fists.  Only Capulet and Montague go to it with long swords – being able to afford such - and Mercutio and Tybalt alone have foils.)

-      It is in the fights that this production’s societal and spiritual elements become most vivid.  Mercutio and Tybalt have already begun fighting (as they did in the beginning of the first act) when Romeo enters and tries to break them apart.  Mercutio’s frustration at his friend’s seeming whimsy leads to his slicing the inside of Tybalt’s thigh whence they again set to.  Romeo, of course, keeps attempting to stop Mercutio and it is when he finally pulls the foil from his hand that Tybalt strikes his deadly blow from behind.  As Mercutio staggers back the women who had danced the mandolin sequence re-enter swathed in large black hats and sheathed in dark tulle.  They are now figures of spiritual death.  Mercutio shares his protracted death sequence with these figures to Romeo’s (and our) horror.  Death, it clearly appears, is inescapable.  On the one back platform that remains throughout the performance, Tybalt’s henchmen have now re-entered striped to the waist and covered in their black death masks.  They are executioners.  Mercutio dies as Tybalt brings down his hand from above and his men encircle.  Tybalt comes forward taunting Romeo.  Their ensuing fight is excitingly mirrored by both the spirits of death and the executioners.  It is almost as if it is out of their control.  When Tybalt is slain he dances a spectacular solo etched by all in each dying fall.  He doesn’t laugh in its thrust like Mercutio; he fights.  It is his own figures that here win. They have overruled.  The spectrum of ultimate retreat as Juliet runs forward and over Tybalt's body is piercing.  The affection between these two having been previously etched stings in terror as the horrific beat of Prokofiev’s strains pound.  In the last act when Juliet is contemplating taking serum given her by the Friar the figures of death will again pull a dead Tybalt across her mind’s path. 


There is, of course, much else one could here report in detail here but this review is already lengthy.  It is, as I said, the choreographic concepts that largely dance here and happily they are vivid.  The Juliet of Yuliya Zhuravleva, while technically apt, is somewhat overwrought; driven by her determined sense of ‘presentation’.  An injection of certain trust and soul might well round her grace with a more secure naturalness.  Talgat Kozhabayev’s Romeo, while more mechanically jagged, is enhanced by a humane (and welcome) vulnerability in its zest.  Still it is the production itself that in so many ways dances for both of them.  It is Smirnov-Golovanov’s ideas that intrigue.  They can and do.  He helps us look beyond. We are all, I think, the richer for that.  

Edited by Meunier
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