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Nureyev's Romeo and Juliet

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I had the pleasure of watching the first act of Nureyev's Romeo and Juliet last night. (The whole ballet was broadcast on Mezzo and I'll be watching the other acts onvideo - hopefully, tonight).

It's a very lavish production - the Bastille stage looks enormous, and the dancers were of course excellent. The recording is from 1995 and Romeo and Juleit were Manuel Legris and Monique Loudieres. Both of them seemed to be so young (although in clos-up you can see that they aren't). Legris has this soaring, floating quality which is breathtaking even on my sub-par television.

I have read a lot of criticism of Nureyev's productions on this board, but I liked the choreography a lot. There is a lot of dancing and most of it is quite complex but I think that's a good thing. Thinking back to the MacMillan version - that version seems be full of swooning and padding compared to Nureyev's version. The women which are always shortchnged in R&J (and in most Shakespeare ballets - maybe that's why a Midsummer's Night's Dream is such a popular ballet) have a fair amount of dancing here. I particularly liked the balcony scene (without the balcony). You could really see the progression from hardly knowing each other - at the beginning there wasn't much physical contact and they danced in parallel - towards an ever growing love, where at the end they can hardly break away from each other.

I do have one issue with this ballet. When the fight between the Capulets and the Montagues begins and everytime the Montagues meet Tybalt, they engage in insults including body language and gestures corresponding to some very 21st century four letter words (I'm feeling family firndly today:p ). I found this bizarre, out of place and rather off-putting. How is this handled in other versions of the ballet?

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Some of those gestures are quite ancient in western movement vocabulary. For example, Aristotle was hauled into court, which involved the whole voting population of Athens, for flipping one of them at his teacher, Plato. The court found that Aristotle was only exercising his right to "speak" freely, and besides, Plato deserved it, because he was boring.

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I second Mel -- I think the gestures are not anachronistic. (And other productions are crude as well, to my mind. There's some of it in MacMillan and Cranko, and a lot in Neumeier. I can't claim to have seen all productions of R&J. There must be 100 now.)

Nureyev uses a lot of Renaissance material -- the Wheel of Fortune dance in the second act is a real court dance (I've seen it on a tape of reconstructions).

I liked his first two acts. In the third, though, he does bring in 20th century material. Shades of "Moor's Pavane" -- he often put in whatever he was dancing at the time.

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The biggest single problem with Nureyev's production, like that of all others I've seen, and like most productions of the same play on the spoken stage, is:

that no-one seems to give a fig about the play.

Nureyev had, of course, read it. But he chose to ignore its author's "mental tone of voice."

What Nureyev has done, which is par for the course for him, is Wagnerian. It is not Shakespeare.

There is far too much emoting, the two lovers falling about all over each other, whilst the critical area of the play - the way civil war destroys a country, though of course here, it's "only" a city-state - and the reconciliation of the warring factions, is tossed off as though it were simply colourful background noise.

On closing the book, one has a very clear, and definite, view of what actually happened. Whereas, on leaving the theatre after this particular production - and we have "test-run" it on about thirty people so far - one feels pretty gruesome. The scene in the crypt - I mean, really !

One can't say that Prokofiev is especially helpful in this particular respect.

Rather more importantly, one has been misled as to the reason the play was written in the first place.

You can test this quite easily, by sitting down, and reading carefully through "Hamlet, Prince of Denmark". Surely, one of the most highly political, and dramatic things ever written. But is it Wagnerian ? Is it bombast ? Is it wringing the withers ?

Examine what is going on in your mind when you read that play. And then look at the above tape again. Interesting experiment.

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But they're not primarily choreographing the play. They're choreographing the score. This goes for all the versions I've seen.

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Alexandra,

I didn't realise that Nureyev used 'authentic' Renaissance material. In fact, I am embarassed to say that I thought he was using contemporary movement (with turn-in, etc.) for the court dances. Further more I even took the trouble to think it through and decide that that was very appropriate because in the context of R&J the court dances are supposed to be contemporary dances :) (You can see it's a long time since I flexed any of my History of Dance muscles.)

I didn't like the 2nd and 3rd acts as much as I did the first - too much jumping about from scene to scene - but Loudieres brought tears to my eyes (very difficult on video) in the crypt scene. I have just read the 'Giselle' thread and I see she was right at the end of her career then. I would never have guessed that from her dancing.

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Yes indeed, Monique Loudières was born in 1956 and officially retired from the POB in 1996 (she came back a little bit after that as a guest, though), so that video was filmed shortly before her retirement. But she still was wonderful, and in her last official seasons danced a lot of difficult roles... I wish I had seen her more often. I'm not a fan of that "Romeo and Juliet" (and of "Romeo and Juliet" in general, indeed) but Loudieres and Legris are so magical together that for me it's the main interest of the tape... And I do regret that they weren't filmed in other ballets, for example it'd have been great to have a video of their "Giselle" or their "Sylphide"...

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Actually, Nureyev himself said:"I am convinced that Renaissance Verona and Elisabethan London-cultures divided betweenold superstitions and the desire for a new world-were highly sexual and violent-something that reminds us of our own age" if this can help you understand.

About Monique Loudières, I saw her ecently in the Hommage to Nureyev. She was absolutely magnificent in Cinderella even though she is going to be 47, and my teacher and another professional also thgought what she did was incredible for her age (I don't mean to say she's old, but it is unusual to see a dancer who can dance so well after 'retiring age').

Su-lian

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GWTW, I just happened to see a film of early court dance reconstructions, or I would never have known the source of the Wheel of Fortune dance :) He made it into a pas d'action, the way the characters whose fates will be linked "just happen" to stop facing each other, but otherwise it's the same. I remember at the time reading that the flag dance in the first act is authentic -- from Sienna, though.

I would love to see Loudiers in this -- I think all ballerinas should be able to dance as long as they can do so convincingly, and I think many of them can dance well into their 40s. And I have to say, although I was quite fond of Nureyev, I think his choreography looks much better on Legris than it ever did on him. He emphasized everything; Legris smooths the rough spots.

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Originally posted by Alexandra

But they're not primarily choreographing the play.  They're choreographing the score. This goes for all the versions I've seen.

Quite. In a recent interview Vladimir Vasiliev (who also staged his own version of "Romeo and Juliet") made a good point when he said that "it's essential to realize that Prokofiev's 'Romeo and Juliet' is not Shakespeare and it's no use trying to follow the original story when you work with his music."

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I've seen some that have tried. It's like nails on a blackboard. I'm thinking of one production that had Romeo and Juliet dead in wheelbarrows as the warring factions reconciled, all the while their music is playing the background. You can't ignore the leitmotifs in the Prokofiev.

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Dear Alexandra,

You probably know this already, but the video and DVD of Romeo and Juliet by Nureyev with Loudières and Legris is available on the Paris Opera site (21 euros for the video and 38 for the DVD, but you might also find them for cheaper on other sites).

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During the rehearsals for the original Kirov production of R&J, the cast thought up this couplet, after Shakespeare:

Never was tale of greater woe

Than Prokofiev's music for Romeo.

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Thank you all for your illuminating comments. It's like watching an annotated edition. :)

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It's quoted in Bernard Taper's Days with Ulanova; she is quoted saying that she, Sergeyev and the other dancers came up with it, she didn't claim authorship except as part of the production where the bon mot was created. But then that sounds like her, doesn't it? She might well have invented it, but would say it was all part of a company effort.

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I am watching the documentary series on English National Ballet, in which the company is preparing to perform Nureyev's "Romeo and Juliet". The dancers discuss a death scene on a bed. Does the ballet not end in a crypt? What occurs in the crypt, mentioned above, if not the death?

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well it looks rather like a bed, maybe that's what they were referring to?

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well it looks rather like a bed, maybe that's what they were referring to?

Other R&Js feature a stone, rectangular shaped monument in the crypt. This featured a mattress, a real bed.

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Here is Paris Opera Ballet doing the death scene:

.

The "bed" in the death scene is different from the bed in Juliet's room earlier in the ballet.

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