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Briefly Noted: Mariinsky 'Romeo and Juliet'

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Prokofiev, Romeo and Juliet (chor. L. Lavrovsky), D. Vishneva, V. Shklyarov, Mariinsky Theater, V. Gergiev

(released on October 14, 2014)
MAR0552 | 152 min
The official premiere of Sergei Prokofiev's ballet score Romeo and Juliet was in the Czech city of Brno in 1938. Since the Russian premiere in 1940 at the Mariinsky Theater, though, that St. Petersburg company has laid special claim to the ballet, which it still performs in Leonid Lavrovsky's menacing and heart-breaking choreography. The Russian troupe last brought this production to Washington in 2007, when Miss Ionarts was too young to have seen it. It is hardly surprising, though, that she has become fixated on the work since we received an advance copy of this new DVD/Blu-Ray disc from the Mariinsky's personal label.

That 2007 touring production at the Kennedy Center did not feature Diana Vishneva's Juliet, a reminder that the Mariinsky sometimes visits the U.S. without its best dancers. The reason for the disappointment is evident when one sees Vishneva, one of the great étoiles of our era, dance this role at her home theater, a dizzying mixture of girlish coquette and shy child, with an often breath-taking perfection of line in her movements. All of Vishneva's local appearances have become instant favorites: Kitri in 2009, Aurora in 2010, and especially Giselle in 2011. The Mariinsky took this production, with Vishneva and Vladimir Shklyarov in the title roles, to London this summer, so perhaps there is hope that it will come to the Kennedy Center at some point. Vishneva's younger counterpart, Shklyarov, is not yet in the same class, but he captures the character's youthful impetuosity, and his lifts of Vishneva, especially in the tomb scene when he carries Juliet's lifeless body, are uniformly strong.

Seeing this production is, once again, so important for understanding Prokofiev's wonderful score. Lavrovsky's movements do not always reflect a strong ear for music, but the choreography reflects the bitter details of the version of the story Prokofiev had in mind. Nowhere is this more glaring than in the disturbing portrayal of Juliet's family, beginning with the fiery, red-headed Tybalt, whom Juliet's mother mourns just a little too excessively to escape suspicion, straddling her nephew on his funeral bier as he is carried away. The Dance of the Capulets, so heavy-handed musically, is a corrupt courtly affair, with Juliet's father dancing simultaneously with his wife and another woman, about which Juliet's mother is none too happy. The demeaning gesture of men holding women by their wrists hints at the violence and depravity that lurks under the household's surface.

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