Charlotte Kasner previews Alexei Ratmansky’s tale of the star-crossed lovers, in cinemas on Sunday October 11, 2020
The first offering in this season’s Bolshoi Live programme features Alexei Ratmansky’s version of Romeo and Juliet. Originally staged for the National Ballet of Canada in 2011, cinemagoers will here see it danced by the first Moscow cast on the new stage at the Bolshoi. It has much to recommend it with strong, dramatic performances from Vladislav Lantratov as Romeo, Ekaterina Krysanova as Juliet and Igor Tsvirko as Mercutio.
Ratmansky establishes Romeo as a teenage dreamer with his opening solo, a book of love poetry in his hand and his head full of Rosalind.
At the ball, the highlight Knights dance is undertaken initially by the men, then reprised by the court and finally danced by Juliet and Paris. The escalation of intensity echoes the hierarchy of the Capulet court, and it makes sense that Juliet initially accepts Paris as her suitor, if not her lot in life, giving her far more to build on when she later rejects him after her marriage to Romeo.
The dramatic logic of Tybalt’s anger at discovering Romeo in their midst provides him with plenty of additional motivation for what happens later, even though he is initially stifled by Lord Capulet.
Logical too is Igor Tsvirko’s bold interpretation of Mercutio, details of which are revealed in an interval interview with the splendid linguist and Head of Press at the Bolshoi, Katerina Novikova. This Mercutio is less of the joker than many and displays the sort of fatalism seen in boys in contemporary gangs that expect life to be violent and short, the dullness only enlivened by the danger.
Although Juliet has a brush with Romeo at the ball, it is only fleeting and it is not until the balcony pas de deux that she becomes truly infatuated, her head full of the romance of her coming out ball.
Ratmansky gives the pair a lot of steps. Intricacy abounds. He also uses languorous ports de bras in the pas de deux as if the lovers were trying to extend and hold onto the moment, almost slowing down the tempo and drawing the eye to the extremities of the movement.
The fight between Romeo and Tybalt is dizzying and the device of carrying off Mercutio and Tybalt by each contingent serves as another reminder of the division that follows every opportunity of reconciliation.
Unlike many productions, Ratmansky neither over-hints at the impending tragedy nor over-eggs the passion. Indeed, the pas de deux at the top of Act III sees Romeo and Juliet almost sleepwalk through the first sections. They dance with all the stops in. After all, they are expecting to be spending the rest of their lives together. That’s not to say Lantratov and Krysanova play it without intensity, however.
Ratmansky’s Lady Capulet is more sympathetic towards her daughter than some and almost capitulates with regards to her refusal to marry Paris until she remembers Tybalt’s death. Perhaps she remembers her own arranged marriage to Lord Capulet.
Anastasia Vinokur’s nurse is fairly traditional interpretation. She has a palpably close relationship to Juliet and her little motion of making the sign of a cross as she backs away before, unknown of course to her, Juliet takes the potion, is poignant as well as prescient.
Although Ratmansky simplifies the role of the Friar Laurance, Egor Simachev has plenty of dramatic opportunities. The exposition of the intended result of the use of the potion is mimed upstage behind a gauze, making it much clearer for the audience than usual. But it is in the final moments that he comes into his own. As he bends over the corpses of the lovers on the floor of the tomb, we see the flicker of a flame of fear and guilt as he wonders if Lord Capulet will discover his complicity in their union.
Ratmansky handles the tomb scene differently too. We see Romeo’s long entrance into the tomb as he gingerly walks down and down, making perfect musical sense too as the strings play at their upper limit before launching into the lush tragedy of the tomb music. Juliet recovers to discover and dance with Romeo, but not before he has taken the poison. This neatly solves the problem that plagued Prokofiev and led to his initial intention to stage a ‘happy ending’ because he could not see how dead people could dance. As Katerina Novikova reminds us in the second interval, this had nothing to do with Soviet censorship, in fact quite the opposite, and may have been a contributing factor to the premiere being held outside of the Soviet Union.
Only in the corps de ballet scenes does the ballet dip. The greater ensemble contributes little dramatically, their dances little more than fillers. Against this, Kristina Loseva and Xania Sorokina as the two prostitutes leap out as fully-fledged characters, and also get rather better costumes than the townspeople or, for that matter some of the courtiers.
The ballet’s biggest problems are with its designs, however. Verona is heavily stylised by designer Richard Hudson, who has taken inspiration from Renaissance and Italian surrealism to produce a dreadful-looking two dimensional set and costumes that make the dancers look little more than animated playing cards. A vast red castle dominates and distracts upstage, with drunken pillars leaning in from the wings making even the large new Bolshoi stage feel claustrophobic. The palette of colours used for the plain costumes is frequently lost against this visual competition with the troupe of Comedia players in their humbug-striped affairs a particular ocular shock and the detail of Lady Capulet’s skirt disappearing in all but close up, thus making her look like a servant.
Pavel Klinichev as ever, conducts the mighty Bolshoi Orchestra with aplomb. There are a few bars of the score that I was unacquainted with, perhaps cut from more familiar versions, but it makes dramatic sense for them to be restored, if this is indeed the case.
The Bolshoi Ballet in Romeo and Juliet is in cinemas on Sunday October 11, 2020. Visit https://www.bolshoiballetcinema.co.uk for venues and time.
At the time of writing, the listings still showed those at Cineworld and Picturehouse screens, which Cineworld has announced will temporarily close from Thursday October 8. Please check before booking these venues. Other cinemas are unaffected.