What a shame that after multiple performances of their competing “Nutcrackers”, London’s two new year ballet seasons could offer only short and overlapping runs of potentially more rewarding productions. Both of them were variants of widely given ballet classics. English National Ballet put on at the Coliseum, for just one week, a revival of Rudolf Nureyev’s “Romeo and Juliet”, and for that same week the Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet for the first time in Britain, at the Royal Festival Hall, presented “Don Quixote”.
Actually the Don Q turned out to be, compared with other Stanislavsky productions (this was their third annual visit), rather a disappointment. Choreography and libretto are credited as being, respectively, revised and edited by Alexei Tchichinadze, of whom the programme tells us only that he directed the company 1971-84 after being one of its star performers (and all I can learn of him elsewhere is that he was one of the censors who prevented American Ballet Theatre in 1960 from taking “Billy the Kid” to Russia on the grounds that Billy had no sufficient moral or social purpose for killing his victims!). Well, unless anyone has been fiddling with Tchininadze’s production more recently, it comes over as pretty thin.
Like the present Moscow Bolshoi version, it puts the action of Act 2 into a different and less logical order than the Saint Petersburg and Nureyev ones, with the here rather pointless gypsy scene after the tavern scene. The gypsy dances, too, like some of the other character numbers, have been given inappropriately classical choreography, and all through the ballet we are distracted from the important action by the corps de ballet fiddling around at the back (I was reminded of the same fault in recent productions by Pierre Lacotte). The Dryads dances were a bit perfunctory, and I wondered why Cupid (Ekaterina Safanova) was given a lot of dreary teetering around but not her usual fast solo.
The company has what could be an outstanding Sancho Panza in the person of Denis Perkovsky (I don’t think I’ve seen anyone better in the episode of being tossed Goya-style into the air), but why give him lots of virtuoso solos? Even the Don (Sergei Goryunov) gets passages of prancing and near-grands jetés—daft. Some liked the fidgety Gamacho (Anton Domashev) and the jokes inflicted on him better than I did. Among the mainly disappointing minor characters, outstanding were Irina Belavina as Mercedes, and the dancing of Anastasia Pershenkova and Olga Sizykh (beautifully light high jetés with silent landings) as Kitri’s friends and the bridesmaid soloists.
The ensemble dancers were as good as the production allowed. The principals— at least the cast chosen for the press night—made less impression. Natalia Ledovskaya (one of four dancing Kitris) was no more than mediocre, while Roman Malenko lacked character and looked stretched as Basil (one of three). Some of the subsidiary mime was quite good—e.g. Lorenzo’s quizzing of Basil—but suffered from lack of a tavern in the first scene to provide context. Were the settings by Marina Sokolova, and some of the action, a cut-down version of what we would see in Moscow? I especially wondered whether the prologue and epilogue are always restricted to drawings of the Don and Sancho on their travels, and how well this would wear on repeated sittings? I had intended to see further casts but somehow a lack of conviction in the show put me off.
ENB’s revival of “Romeo and Juliet” was staged by Patricia Ruanne and Frédéric Jahn, respectively Juliet and Tybalt when Nureyev created this version for the company in 1977. Obviously they know it well, and the company had already performed it on tour before the London run, so I cannot account for a slight lack of weight in some scenes, especially as the dancers had been in great form during “Nutcracker”. However, this is still one of the very few versions of the ballet that I can bear watching.
Nureyev tells the story better than most, fills in the historical background better, and makes sense of the society it is set in. Yet there was only one truly outstanding performance on opening night: the Cuban dancer Yat-Sen Chang as Mercutio. How authoritatively he plays the part (as Shakespeare said, kinsman to the Prince), how brilliantly he does all the small, quick steps and the expressive gestures, how well he phrases all his movements, and how vividly he acts, both in his extensive “Queen Mab” entries before the ball, and in the death scene where Nureyev so cleverly has the others believe that he is joking.
Daria Klimentova from Prague and Dmitri Gruzdyev from Saint Petersburg, playing the title parts, are excellent dancers but not ideally suited to these roles. They both play with skill and enthusiasm rather than utter conviction, and he particularly is too tall and long-limbed to be fully at ease in the solos Nureyev made for himself. It could be that some of the junior casts during the week would have been more at home—I’m only sorry that a congested time-table stopped me from seeing them.
Oh, I must mention Paul Lewis, a former company member who appears now only as a guest character artist (he is also, I read, a qualified acupuncturist and sports therapist). It is a long time since I saw so much made of Lord Capulet, and never in this production; for once Juliet’s dad becomes a truly sympathetic character.
The second photo, Mercutio's death scene from English National Ballet's "Romeo and Juliet," is by Dee Conway.
3, No. 3