Andrian Fadeyev and Evgenya Obraztsova in Romeo and Juliet, Kirov Ballet, photo by Natasha Razina, courtesy of the Kennedy Center
The Kirov Ballet's debut of the work was delayed until 1940, two years after Prokofiev introduced it in Brno. Even so, there is little doubt that the Kirov "owns" this ballet, in a sense, and it has been performing Lavrovsky's Soviet-era choreography regularly ever since. The Post reports today that Mark Morris will create his own choreography of this ballet, which restores the happy ending of an early version, made by consultation with a score recently discovered in Moscow. Lavrovsky ingeniously resolved several problems in adapting the Shakespeare play to ballet, and the death scene is one of the most moving parts of this beautiful work. Romeo lifts Juliet's apparently dead body from the funeral bier and carries her around, trying to partner with a dead weight.
If viewers are to believe the story, we must be moved by the idea of the two principal dancers falling in love at first sight. Last night's Juliet was Olesya Novikova, and with her long body, impressive extensions, elegant port de bras, and flawless en pointe technique, she was a fragile, wispy thing as Juliet. Novikova has only recently moved from the corps de ballet into solo roles, memorably in a touring version of Don Quixote. This was her Kirov debut in the role of Juliet, and it was to my eyes an impressive success. Novikova was perhaps not well paired with Byelorussian Igor Kolb, who seemed not quite the right match by height. Kolb has been a principal dancer with the Kirov for nine years and is formerly known for the role of the Troubadour in this ballet. His strength in the lifts was remarkable, especially in the final scene, when Romeo carries the limp body of Juliet over his head back up the stairs to her bier.
Fine performances were also seen from Sergey Popov as Paris (whose tall body and lanky grace seemed to match Novikova's Juliet better), Dmitry Pykhachev's rash Tybalt (complete with red hair and costume of brightly colored patches), and Alexander Sergeev's slightly crazy Mercutio. The corps de ballet provided interesting crowd scenes, although the four jesters that appeared with the Joker (an impressively acrobatic Andrey Ivanov) were not always in unity.
The Opera House Orchestra, conducted by the Kirov's Alexander Polyanichko, got off to a rough start (the synthesized organ that sounds at the start of the balcony scene has to go) but was in fine form by the third act. The final part of the score has the best music, beginning with the earth-shaking introduction to Act III, a contrast of dissonant and consonant chords. The low brass gave excellent force to the most famous theme, the menacing Dance of the Knights. In this version, a snarling Lord Capulet dances with the men at the party crashed by Romeo and Mercutio. The theme comes to represent Capulet's domination of his daughter, returning as he scolds her for not agreeing to marry Paris in Act III. When Juliet appears to relent, while secretly planning to fake her suicide, and dances with Paris, the theme appears in the most seductive music of the ballet, a softened version for a pas de deux with tinkling celesta.
Classical ballet companies tend to use the same productions over and over, which sometimes makes you long for some fresh air. The sets and costumes used here were designed for the original production by Pyotr Williams, who died in 1947. Except for the lovely outdoor night scene for Juliet's funeral, with its twinkling stars, some updating might be good. These few minor faults are easily forgiven, however, making it worth your while to see one of the remaining performances. For someone new to ballet, it will be an entertaining introduction.
The only tickets remaining for the Kirov Ballet's Romeo and Juliet are for performances tonight (January 18, 7:30 p.m.), with Olesya Novikova and Anton Korsakov, and Friday night (January 19, 7:30 p.m.), with Maya Dumchenko and Mikhail Lobukhin.