Yuri Grigorovich’s Romeo and Juliet is a magnificent vehicle to display the powerful technique of the Bolshoi Ballet’s male dancers:   Mikhail Lobukhin’s Tybalt prowls the stage like a panther ranging from side to side, hand raised, fingers stretching upward like a handful of daggers;  Andrei Bolotin plays Mercutio, with the impertinence of a Squirrel Nutkin, as he gate crashes the Capulet party, where all the trouble starts, and later goads Tybalt into the deadly fight that sets in train the final catastrophic sequence of coincidences.   Alexander Volochkov’s Romeo seemed overshadowed in the early scenes until the encounter with Juliet, played with technical virtuosity by Anna Nikulina.

Grigorovich’s first production of Romeo and Juliet was in 1978 for the Paris Opera, only a decade after his Spartacus, and there are choreographic echoes, such as the anguished position on the ground, arched body supported on one arm behind while the other reaches skyward.  Grigorovich has said (see http://www.ballet.co.uk/magazines/yr_10/jun10/interview-yuri-grigorovich.htm) that he never repeats his ballets in different theatres, and the intermission interview with Alexander Vetrov ( a former Grigorovich Tybalt) confirmed that the 2010 revival is different, with some simplification of the choreography.  Vetrov, who also danced in Lavrovsky’s ballet , remarked that in the drambalet, Tybalt had very little dancing.  Grigorovich’s ballet is a completely different concept to Lavrovsky’s;  it is not a “drambalet” but an attempt to portray entirely in dance the abstract ideas, such as eternal love, that lie behind the story.  It is easy now to forget that this was innovative in 1970s Soviet Russia, and that Grigorovich worked within the confines of a totalitarian ideology.

As a ballet, it is flawed:  the showy but narrow dance vocabulary sometimes has the predictability of classroom enchainements, and if you miss a choreographic phrase the first time on the right, you often have a chance to catch it a second time on the left.  However it is a powerful dramatic dance work for this particular company.  The dancers were technically spectacular and delivered their performances with a mesmerising conviction.  You could feel the physical shock that runs through Juliet as Romeo kisses her skirt and the frisson of electricity as she caresses his head for a moment.  The overweening parading pride of the Capulet Clan and the arrogant confrontations between Capulet and Montague are compelling, and it is dramatic, rather than cheesy, when Romeo runs onto the stage, his cloak billowing behind him.

This very interesting work endeavours to convey concepts (pride, love, anger, and so on), but there are uncomfortable shifts between the concrete and the abstract, as in the fight between Romeo and Tybalt, which moves into an ambiguous symbolism when Romeo uses his cloak to cover Tybalt’s head, like a matador and a bull.  The work fails in that the characters themselves do not seem like real people with whom we can identify as they experience their overwhelming passions;  the ballet doesn’t make the audience weep.  However well the dancers act, the uneasy balance between reality (the narrative tale, the real people) and abstract ideas undermines the work.  The tremendous theatricality of the performers saves the ballet from banality, but for it to become more than a splendid show piece, it needs subtler choreography, and paring down to take it further along the path towards abstraction.

Maggie Watson

15 May 2013