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Romeo and Juliet -- Ferri, et al.

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Ari posted this on today's links, but I thought I'd post it here, too -- see if we can smoke any Royalgoers out :) Percival makes some interresting remarks that we all can discuss in general, too.

Young Lovers Cast Adrift

First, to set the stage:

It's an odd sort of town, this Verona imagined by Kenneth MacMillan for his production of Romeo and Juliet. Three of the most prominent citizens are a trio of whores always cluttering up the market square with their rude antics. They do everything together, but one thing they never do is find any customers, although they do have a bizarre knack of occupying the attention of the three leading men, whom we might think rich and handsome enough to pull much prettier birds. Anyway, what are these tarts contributing to a tale of young love?

Obviously, he has quibbles with the production. And quibbles with the staging and direction, as he ends:

It might not be a bad idea if the directors and staff were to study the film of the original 1965 cast, not just for its stars but all the other performers; then they would at least have a n idea how much better the ballet could look. And if anyone suggests that today's dancers are more suited to virtuosity than to drama, wouldn't that (if true) be an argument for a different repertoire?

Did anyone go? What did you think?

And for those of us who didn't, or couldn't, see these performances, what do you make of Percival's last sentence? An interesting argument, I thought: if you're not going to emphasize acting, then drop the dramatic ballets. Which means, by implication, if your bread and butter are dramatic ballets, then start paying attention to them.

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I went on Wednesday. I thought they were acting!

I'd never seen any version of R&J before, but I was certainly drawn in to the story and ,like I said before, seeing Alessandra Ferri was a privelege.

I just ignored the whores. There were lots of them in Manon too.

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I went on Saturday. Having seen a different, shorter, version of the same ballet recently, I was disappointed by this. I thought the dancing was sloppy and the crowd scenes confusing. I felt similarly about Manon, actually, so maybe its a Macmillan choreography thing for me.

The virtuosity thing - well, as I say, I wasn't all that impressed by the dancing. Or the acting, actually. I was left with a feeling of anticlimax. The story is meant to be so moving and yet I really wasn't bothered

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I can't resist a reply. The dancers in the RB are for the most part fantastic, vivid actors. My friends who have seen a wider variety of companies than I, think they are the best in the world in this regard. Certainly in comparison to the other companies I have seen this is the case. I must have been to a dozen masterclasses in the last few years and the coaches, particularly Monica Mason, keeps emphasising the acting side from all dancers on stage right down to the corps. She's keeps telling them that each dancers must have their own character, their own story to tell. They need to use a running script in their heads so that they aren't just performing mindless gestures. She said once that she uses her binoculars to check up on everyone at the back! You could sit and ignore the action in the centre (admittedly I do this sometimes) and really enjoy what's going on in the background especially as it's sometimes so spontaneous and different with each performance. And this is never more evident than the ballets being danced at the moment - Manon last month and now R&J. Last night Cervera's Mercutio bounds down to centre stage and on his way he smacks a big kiss on one of the girls, Lauren Cuthbertsen, and I cannot forget the way she grabbed her hat, the way her eyes lit up, the excited expression on her face. Or last week when one of the harlots snatches the bouquet of flowers off the bride in the market and Edward Watson's Benvolio has a protracted struggle to retrieve it for her. These are just silly details, but they set the atmosphere it's the way they all add up that make the RB performances so special to me. And at the same time it never detracts from the core of the ballet. I've never thought the ballets here lacked cohesiveness or direction - rather they make the whole experience so much richer. Well these are just personal observations - I'm sure there are others that disagree.

I've been to most R&Js so far in the run. Ferri is as marvellous as everyone says - she has such long and beautiful legs and a lovely supple back. I was telling my friends that she seems to live and breathe Juliet. I love how she's has danced it for so many years she can play around with it and not merely follow a formula - it seems much more impulsive, more natural this way. She's different to what I expected having only seen her on video. Much deeper and in act 3 she seems so much more haunted and heartbreaking. I wasn't as moved by Roberto Bolle as I was last season but I have to admit I couldn't keep my eyes off Ferri.

I think my favourite cast is definitely Mara Galeazzi and Johan Kobborg - not just my favourite this season but my favourite ever! While their pdd probably weren't as liquid smooth as Ferri and Bolle's I can say without a doubt that I don't think I've ever been so moved by anyone in any other ballet. I don't know why I found them so wonderful. Mara replaced Alina Cojocaru who is injured, and I think they only had a few days to rehearse. I think the fact that Mara and Johan are so different is what makes it so fascinating. They aren't a pairing you'd think of as ideal for R&J - heightwise, plus Mara has such strong, striking features and Johan is more delicate, and you think they can't possibly belong together! But they are such fantastic individual actors and they fall in love so convincingly, it makes it seem so much more romantic...and all the more doomed! Mara has such big expressive eyes. And there is a steeliness to her dancing that makes me think she has great strength of character, that the courage she needed to go through act 3 was there from the start. I think Johan has spoilt all other Romeos for me now :) - like after lifting Juliet after he ballroom solo when he had to go and dance with the Capulets, the look on his face was so wonderous. And when he went to ask the Friar to marry them, he looked so anxious hovering over him, pointing out passages in Juliet's letter, whereas the other Romeos stood off to one side and apart from the letter-reading there would be nothing happening on stage. There is always something going on with him, and he has such a range of emotions that flash across his face, you feel know exactly what he is thinking as opposed to just happy, sad, angry, etc, etc, and not only that you feel them too!

I liked Miyako Yoshida's Juliet as great deal - her acting is more subdued than other Juliets which is refreshing but I guess doesn't appeal to everyone. I'll wait to see David Makhateli on Friday again before I say anything. I've yet to see Tamara Rojo and Inaki Urlezaga but Tamara I thought was the best last season so I'm excited about that. The comments about the secondary characters in Perceival's and other reviews I don't agree with - they seem lively but no overplayed. I thought Percival's comment about the harlots was also a bit silly and pedantic. It's great fun to watch, fantastic choreography and light relief between the romance and action. I have the biggest smile on my face during the market scenes. And I saw the Royal Ballet of Flanders stripped-down R&J which was the most excruciating ballet I have ever seen. I missed those harlots.

Sorry for not posting in months Alexandra. I've just finished exams and finally have time to post but the season comes to a close on Saturday!

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I confess I don't go to see that Romeo and Juliet (or most others) these days, so I can't comment on recent casts or on the present level of acting. I did see the film of the original cast when it was shown at the NFT in January and was really impressed by both the dancing and the restrained but totally convincing playing of most of the characters.

But, two things have always puzzled me about MacMillan's production. Firstly, what is Rosaline doing promenading around Verona in the middle of the night, attended only by a manservant, and why does she walk all the way down a flight of steps only to turn and climb up them again. It's not likely she's been to Mass or surely she would have a maidservant and a prayerbook. She's received in polite society, so she's presumeably not a whore. And why the pointless stairclimbing?

The other concerns the infamous harlots. Last time I saw the ballet they all peered over Romeo's shoulder to see the letter from Juliet? Should we assume an unusually high standard of literacy in renaissence Verona?

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I think that's the kind of detail -- odd detail -- that the review meant. And it's possible to have detailed acting that isn't in the service of the whole. The harlots work hard to make their characters seem real when, if one wants to be real, one could argue they shouldn't be there, or at least so prominent, in the first place. But there isn't the same attention to the overview -- what story are we telling?

I didn't see these performances either, obviously, and was very interested to read the posts above from this who did -- thank you, Sylvia -- you haven't been around for awhile and I miss reading you. But I can offer one good/bad example from "La Fille Mal Gardee" the last time it was here. Also a little thing, but in the scene where the good Widow throws everything she can find at Colas, all but one of them ducked at each throw, including the flowers, which, of course, wouldn't hurt them. They were certainly in the moment and ducked with vigor, but only Stuart Cassidy differentiated -- he didn't duck at the flowers, he looked at her, half defiantly, half, "Oh, good grief, you're pretty desperate to throw THAT" And then when the next throw -- the pot -- came, he ducked again, and it made the whole sequence funny. And that's the difference between good acting and generic paying attention to details. That may have been what Percival was getting at.

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I obviously missed something with this ballet! I really do like the acting of the crowd scenes where so much is going on, but I find that I get distracted by something going on at the sides and miss out on the main action. There was plenty of humour and personality to the cast, that's certainly true. It's just that, when I'm watching more than one person dance I want them to be dancing together, and quite often I didn't feel that there was much communication within the smaller groups of dancers. Ballet is about dancing as well as acting. I wanted to love this ballet as I feel a certain amount of loyalty towards the Royal, but I preferred the Flanders version. I really do feel like I don't watch ballet properly, since my opinions are always so different from everyone else!

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Thanks, Beckster. Don't worry if your opinions are different from others. You might find, if you see the ballet a few more times, that you'll be more familiar with it and the crowd scenes won't be so much of a distraction because you'll know what's going on -- your eye will take it in easier. And you may find that this just isn't the kind of ballet you don't like. I think it's worth taking other opinions into account -- if everybody says Ashton or Tudor or Balanchine are great choreographers and I think they're a bore, I thought I should at least understand why they were great choreographers, but on 90% of what you see today, there's a huge divide of opinion, so stick to your guns :)

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I sort of agree with you, too, beckster. I find the crowd scenes quite distracting too, but as Alexandra says it may be because I have only now seen 2 McMillan ballets. I find it difficult to decide what to watch! It was particularly the case when I saw Manon and I didn't find Jaimie Tapper's acting/dancing (???) compelling enough so the whole thing just melded into one thing. I don't really know how to describe it. Maybe you know what I mean?

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Originally posted by Kate B

It was particularly the case when I saw Manon and I didn't find Jaimie Tapper's acting/dancing (???) compelling enough so the whole thing just melded into one thing.  I don't really know how to describe it.  Maybe you know what I mean?

*I* know exactly what you mean :) And I think that's what Percival is writing about. I'm not a fan of MacMillan's "Romeo," but if you watch the video of the Earlier Cast (Fonteyn and Nureyev) -- and, as Percival said, it's not just them; it's the whole company -- you'll see a difference. The whole was the sum of its parts -- the ensemble acting TOGETHER, not a collection of separate incidents or scenes -- and, through the acting and dancing of the principal characters, greater than the sum of its parts. It is possible :) But hard to see today.

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Romeo certainly isn't one of my favorites, either, and I think there are a lot of inconsistencies--I hadn't thought of the opening one though! There does seem to be an awful lot of padding, which gets in the way of the drama--the one I noticed recently was the entry to the ball. Romeo sees Rosaline and gets the flower, and naturally he should rush in after her. But he and his buddies spend an enormous amount of time prancing in front of the building. And wouldn't he grab the letter from the nurse, knowing it was from Juliet, rather than horse around looking under her skirt?

But I had a couple of questions for British viewers. In the last few years, ABT has had Mercutio also dance the Mandolin solo during the wedding scene. I think it reduces his character to the court jester, and wondered if that was the current tradition at the Royal Ballet--I know it wasn't when I saw it there. And this season, one of the harlots mimes urinating on Tybalt's corpse--at least in one performance she did. Apparently it is up to the individual harlot, because not all of them do. Julie Lincoln is credited with the staging, and I wondered if she got it from the current Royal Ballet's. If so, you can have it back!

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I'm not aware that Mercutio has ever been given the Mandolin solo to dance at the ROH. I agree with Cargill that it would seem out of character. Curiously, these days it generally seems to be danced by a small dancer, whereas originally the casts tended to be both tall and small men.

As to the harlot - I do hope not!

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To be even more iconoclastic, I really can't stand the music. I think Prokofiev's score is a major problem with all the versions of R & J which follow it and a major reason why there is so little dancing and why the action is so full of misplaced low humour.

A year or two ago, thinking of Cinderella and Prodigal Son as well as Romeo and Juliet, I began to believe that there is something about the a-melodic, broken music box, hurdy gurdy, herky jerky musical tones and rhythmic patterns which Prokofiev uses to carry his narrative in all three works which seems to invite a response of bufoonery from choreographers and dancers -- the "horsing around" Cargill refers to in R and J (as well as excess sword fighting), similar horsing around in Cinderella, or the sort of antics pursued by the the trogolytes in Prodigal Son. This is something of a rant on my part, I know.

I know that the lovers of Ashton's Cinderella shall now also be offended. As if I didn't have enough on my hands by trashing R & J. I haven't seen it, so I trust he negotiated those musical shoals and anyway, there are reasons why what works in Cinderella might not be fitting for the more serious romance of Romeo and Juliet.

So lets stick to R & J -- How happy wouldn't I be to have some other score for a credible Romeo and Juliet. One of the very greatest of English plays, particularly consonant with our modern fixation with romantic love, it awaits in my view a really appropriate musical treatment.

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Re Mercutio/Mandolin, when it was first staged at ABT those that new combined role was given to Johan Renvall, who could carry it off. (You knew his Mercutio had read a book or nine.) But since then it's turned into a jester role, as Cargill said.

Michael, regarding the Romeo and Juliet score, it was originally a shorter ballet, and music was added (and repeated) to fill out an evening -- the "classical symphony" was grafted on. So maybe that's at least partly why it's so choppy. Regarding "Cinderella," there's a good video of the Ashton out now (Sibley and Dowell). He cuts the character dance music when the Prince goes around the world looking for Cinderella's foot. That helps. I don't mind "Cinderella" as much as "R&J" as music, but that's just taste.

Anecdote: When Balanchine saw the Ashton "Romeo and Juliet" in Copenhagen, Volkova asked him what he thought, and he reportedly replied: "Prokofiev should have stayed in Russia."

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Perhaps the shorter score was the reason I preferred the Flanders version of the ballet. I took my ballet-virgin boyfriend, and he enjoyed it and didn't get bored. I think if he'd seen the Royal he would have been bored because of all the padding/extraneous characters, etc. The other thing I felt was that the music fitted better with the choreography. I like most of the Romeo and Juliet music but somehow it didn't fit very well with the Macmillan choreography. Often the dancers were moving through the music rather than on it, and I find that difficult to watch. I imagine this partly accounts for my feeling that the dancers weren't all together - it must be very difficult to dance in time with each other and out of time with the music!

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I think one could look to Prokofiev's score as a problem with this Romeo and Juliet or MacMillian, who, in the handful of ballets I've seen of his, is not a very musical choreographer. In an article by Jane Simpson (either in Dance View or Dance Now) suggested his career was thwarted by the desire or need by MacMillian to make evening-length ballets rather than shorter ones, which he had done earlier in his career. It seems to be the padding in all his evening-length works that makes his works fail for me. He is not a good mover of people as other choreographers are. The pas de deux in R&J are the most successful part of the ballet (and I've already made my feelings known about this work elsewhere on the board and many times). That is where his talent lies, for me at least.

Regarding Prokofiev, Balanchine did not get along with him. In a Ballet Review article, Mr. B said that in the old days only composers got residuals from performances. He was very broke and asked Prokofiev if he would share in the money as it was a collaboration. Prokofiev said absolutely not. And Balanchine vowed never to work with him again. And I don't think he did. That could have been why he periodically let the ballet drop from the rep. until he just absolutely found a prodigal that excited him.

As to choreography to Porkofiev, I am a big fan of Ashton's version of Cinderella, but not Stevenson's.

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MacMillian, who, in the handful of ballets I've seen of his, is not a very musical choreographer

Is this a widely-held view? I agree with it, but I've only seen a couple of Macmillan ballets. However, based on this, I suspect this may be the reason why I didn't enjoy Manon or R&J as much as I hoped to. Maybe Macmillan is too freestyle for me :)

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Kate, there are some people who've been watching MacMillan for 30 years and love his ballets (and others who don't) so experience isn't necessarily a factor. I'm not a fan of his story ballets, but I've seen performances of the pas de deux that were extraordinary; same with "Manon."

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No time to post at length but having seen what everyone else has been saying feel I have to say a BIG, BIG thank you to Sylvia for a posting with which I am in almost total agreement (apart from a few comments re dancers).

I've seen three casts for R&J and liked them all. Was knocked out by Ferri and Roberto but have to say I was, in a way, even more impressed by Yoshida (an intensity of despair I hadn't expected from her and a wonderful youthfulness in the first act) and was really, really impressed by Mara and Johan (preferred her to Ferri and absolutely agree with you Sylvia about taking the letter to Friar L. bit. Johan also gave an extremely convincing account of a young man deeply in love.)

Surely the point of the harlots is to explore different emotional layers: harlots= pure sex, Rosaline = unrealistic, idealized romantic love, Juliet = the real thing and MORE. Though of course there is another parallel between Juliet and the harlots in that Juliet's love is basically being sold to Paris as part of some sort of family alliance.

The street scenes ARE confusing (but great for those of us who've seen the ballet many times because there are so many individual performances to watch) and crowded, noisy and violent but that is the point of them (in Shakespeare as well) since they throw the love between Romeo and Juliet into greater relief.

I adored the music (despite a certain amount of duff playing by the guesting orchestra on Friday night) and thought myself very, very lucky indeed to have seen so many cracking performances - including many by some of the younger members of the company. And I can't have been the only one who was loving it all - we had roars of applause for the last night.

Oh, and I've enjoyed all the Manons in this run as well.

- Wendy

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Does anyone know if the divine picture of Johan and Alina in the Romeo and Juliet programme can be found any where else, eg. online or to buy? I know it was taken by Bill cooper but can't get much further than that........

I just think it's gorgeous- such a shame she was injured....... because her partnership with Johan is so perfect.

Did anyone see them in Manon? I was unfortunate enough to see the one where she ended flat on her face but non the less in the first Act when Mr. GM see's Manon for the first time, the look on his face he was incredible.......he was 110% in love with her from the moment he sees her......

Sorry that turned out to be a little longer than I had planned, I can't help but get carried away when I talk about those two :D

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