I just saw Romeo and Juliet
at the Paramount Theater. I have to put my comments in context: 1. I don't like musical theater in general. For me this production was rather perfect, because it was like musical theater, without the singing and without the dialogue (although there was the occasional shriek). While as a ballet choreographer, Poklitaru might be third rate, as a musical theater choreographer, he's not half bad, particularly in the hands of a strong director. 2. I think that Prokofiev's score is gorgeous, but not a good ballet score, because the drama tempts too many choreographers into excess, which I don't like much in classical ballet. These are probably why, despite moments and passages of extreme silliness, I had such a smashingly good time.
Donnellan's Romeo and Juliet
is completely twisted. It is over-the-top, reflecting much of the score, but is performed with not a wink or "Get It?" or aside in sight--it's done completely straight. While I half expected the men and women of the Greek Corps to start snapping their fingers in the opening tableau, when instead they started to sway slowly in tiers, much of the soloists' movement was more jerky and stylized and reminded me of comics, particularly "I Spy" in Mad Magazine
, along with early, primitive Japanese animation, like "Colonel Bleep." By contrast, there was an occasional classical outburst, and almost lyrical short passages for Juliet. I remembered Natalia's description of Alexandrova: "You'll be seeing Alexandrova at her best for, to me, she is better in this sort of work than in the classics, where she tends to eschew pure lines." There were several times, particularly in the bedroom scene, where she had such beautiful line in her legs, that I wondered whether she expended it on modern works only. On the other hand, although the sets themselves were austere, my sense of the piece was that somehow it transmitted the creepiness of the second act of Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker
The characterizations were wild, and there was little character development throughout the piece. This was not a Juliet who matures in the face of marriage and responsibility: she was the same crazed, willful child-woman who jumped on Lady and Lord Capulet at the opening party, and, until she took the sleeping potion, a portrait of hormonal distress and adolescent reactions to the people surrounding her. Maria Alexandrova was scarily convincing. To my eyes her face resembled Gelsey Kirkland, and Alexandrova's portrayal of Juliet at its most distressed reminded me of Kirkland's descriptions of herself in the throes of addiction.
Natalia described Denis Medvedev's Tybalt as "sickningly slimy," to which I would add "unctuous," and "lounge lizard." One of the more convincing theatrical conceits was having Mercutio, danced tonight by Yuri Klevtsov, crash the ball by showing up in drag. (Indicative of the approach was that he was in drag, but not a drag queen.) However attractive he was as a man, as a woman he was plain, a little awkward, and pretty butch. Tybalt makes a beeline straight to him, and only after Romeo is un-masked, and Tybalt has planted a huge kiss on Mercutio, is Mercutio revealed as a man, which makes Tybalt a temporary laughing stock among the party goers. It was really too bad, because he had found his match.
Maria Isplatovskaya portrayed Lady Capulet. She was more "society" than imperious. Oleg Orlov was Lord Capulet, and he was a striking figure, dramatically and literally, with his sculpted face. Rosalind doesn't have a big role, but she does get to wear a wonderful red dress, and Ksenia Pchelkina is a stunning beauty.
Denis Savin was Romeo, and his role was about the straightest in the piece. He had his moments, but, on the whole, he was young, he was ardent, and he wasn't quite as warped as the the other characters. Georgy Geraskin's Paris was simply weird, so weird that he wouldn't be wished on someone one hated. He was even creepier than Tybalt. (I suspect a diaper fetishist.) The sensibilty of the piece was very British. It was kind of like Ashton's Facade
on some very strong drugs.
The heart of the ballet was the corps. The set for Act I consisted of several six-eight foot high rectangular solids, that moved around a bit from scene to scene, but nothing distracting, with some small Rorschach-like patterns projected against the backdrop. The set for Act II was an upside down red T extending up to the flies upstage, with a white rectangular day bed in front of the T. The corps, portraying the Capulets and Montagues together and the Capulets and the Montagues alternately, remained in the background for much of the piece. Sometimes they were observing, other times they were in the middle of the fray, but at their most inventive, they were a collective force. One of the most memorable examples of the latter, was when Juliet was sitting along on the bed in Act II, the corps surrounded her on three sides, and the two lines on either side of the bed moved in: the claustrophobia and pressure were palpable.
Another fine moment for the corps was at the end of the second Act, when Romeo searches for Juliet and Juliet for Romeo, the corps, dressed in mourning dress, makes an interlocking parabola around the stage by holding hands. Alternately Romeo and Juliet run through the formation on both sides of the stage, and it is a reflection of the second act of Swan Lake
, as Prince Siegfried searches among the swans to find Odette. Some other signature resemblances: the corps uses the second position plie similar to the troglodytes in Prodigal Son
and a similar way of locomoting by shifting side to side, as well as breaking the corps into two to have each group carry a standing Romeo and Juliet towards each other. The first time the corps comes onstage in band-like uniforms, the way the women move reminds me of the four women in the center of the "Sanguinic" movement of Four Temperaments
. I don't know if these were deliberate quotes, but they looked very familiar.
There was one prop that was used to great effect: a sheet. When the curtain rises on Act II, Juliet stands in front of Romeo on the bed, but slightly to his side, and they are wrapped in a sheet. With the corps on either side on the floor in mourning black, they looked like they came out of a classic Greek tragedy, perhaps as Electra and Orestes. It is a very powerful opening. When Romeo leaves, and Juliet is left only with the sheet, she slowly gathers it together and holds the bundle to her face like a baby. And when Romeo finds Juliet in the crypt (using the bed), she is covered with the sheet. When he first lifts her so that she is "sitting up," her outline is visible through the sheet, and the sheet is like a death mask. When he grabs her face in a gesture he used in several earlier scenes, he ends up holding only the sheet -- she's slipped away from him, and he is devastated.
For me the star of the show was the orchestra. I sat in the first row, just in front of the brass, which have their finest moment when the music that was stolen for the theme song from "Dallas" blasts from the orchestra. There was not a sour note all night from four feet away. The playing was seamless, and the blend of the strings was sublime. Pavel Klinichev was the conductor.
First row was a great vantage point to see all of the drama, and particularly the patterns of the corps, since the set used so much of the stage, and the corps filled much of the rest. But in some ways it was too much of a good thing, as it was Too Many Men, Not Enough Eyes