Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Damir Yusupov
Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Damir Yusupov

With its lavish costumes and superb dancing I see this production as an interesting but a little disappointing introduction to a balletic Romeo and Juliet. Based on Shakespeare’s play this is a revival of the 1978 version Grigorovich created for the Paris Opera Ballet.

This is a rather sparse, somewhat stylized and simplified version of the well known story. Virsaladze’s sets – huge stylized representations of drapery, and a raised platform – remain the same throughout, with the addition of various candelabra, gauze screens… This gives a quite bare and odd feeling to the marketplace scenes as an example, but there are also some very effective shots of Juliet through the texture of the gauze screens.

The wonderful , vibrant Prokofiev score ( excellently played by the Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre of Russia under the musical direction of  Andrei Ankhanov ) drives the work which is striving to be more stripped back and  ‘abstract ‘ , to allow for focus on the main theme of Romeo and Juliet’s love . This production purports to try to get to the emotion of the main story…the lady next to me was in tears…not quite the case for me.

Technically the dancing is great. There were some very difficult lifts in the pas de deux.  However whilst the  dancing was extraordinary and especially showcased the men,  it was also repetitive and Grigorovich recycled sections from his ‘Spartacus ‘ ( especially for Tybalt ) and  lots of it was clearly structured to be precisely on the beat of the music.

For some of the big crowd scenes the dancing was shot from above to give an idea of the patterns of the choreography,– a great idea but the line of the microphones were glaringly obvious.

Our Juliet, played by Anna Nikulina, is exquisite. She is dewily radiant and beautiful in the opening scenes when Romeo first sees her and we see here grow to a strong minded, determined woman. (featuring plenty of costume changes ) . There is lots of use of bourree on pointe.

Nikulina has an incredibly long ‘line’ and fabulous control in the adage. She has a very expressive back and there is a fantastic backbend at the start of the ballroom pas de deux that says volumes.

Our passionate Romeo, Alexander Vochkov, is a great dancer however there was no discernible character for him once he has met Juliet.

The couple’s athletic, angular wedding night pas de deux is glorious .Both Romeo and Juliet have sequences using the ‘Ulanova run’, billowing material behind them.

Also rather one note is our Tybalt (Mikhail Lobukhin) who comes across as a wild eyed, menacing and   melodramatic villain. His portrayal can be forgiven because he is such a splendid dancer. Lobukhin has incredible panther-like leaps and corkscrew turns with showy short solos in both the marketplace and ballroom scenes.

In this production Tybalt deliberately stabs Mercutio in the back.  His (double sworded) death with swirling toreador like red cape was dramatic but felt a little contrived.

There is no Benvolio in this production per se but Andrei Bolotin as Mercutio was outstanding. (The musicians with brilliantly fashioned carnival masks ‘played’ his friends and chorus). Teasing , full of life , popular , Bolotin shows off his amazing soft ‘ballon ‘and fleet footwork. The fight scene with Tybalt were tightly choreographed and carried out and the death scene was powerful.

Some more variations from the Bard’s original work sees Juliet’s nurse not attending the wedding, and later we do not find  Juliet  ‘dead in her bed’ but rather her death takes place off stage. As well, this version has a very athletic ‘reunion ‘ pas de deux where the lovers are briefly reunited before their deaths.

The ballet attempts to convey and personify concepts (anger, love, pride and so on), but there are awkward shifts between the abstract  and the concrete, and although excellently acted the dancers don’t seem like real people with whom we can identify in their tumultuous overwhelming passions.  I have to say, I much prefer the Macmillan version.

The Bolshoi Ballet Grigorovich Romeo and Juliet screened at selected arthouse cinemas on the weekend of June 29 & 30.