Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Romeo, Romeo...

Back to the ballet. As I mentioned, I choreographed a new pas de deux based on Romeo and Juliet.

Now the idea of Romeo and Juliet as a ballet is nothing new. The original Prokofiev score is well known and has been used not only for rapturous dances of young love, but for selling cologne, chocolate and any variety of 20th century products.

Now, I personally have held off on choreographing anything on the subject for aa long time, intenionally...

Leonid Lavrovsky choreographed the "first" ballet set to the theme in the middle of the 20th Century at the Bolshoi in Moscow. The production was best known for the sheer weight and scope it brought to the stage. Something other versions have emulated, which I find a bit much. After all, we are speaking about the first love between a 16 and 14 year old. The ballerina he chose to create the piece on was the lead dancer of the company, Galina Ulanova. Filled with plenty of lifts and emotional effects, the choreography is really much more about acting and arabesques. In fact, one critic once called Juliet's choreography an "apolegia for the arabesque."

Ulanova tended to be remembered for naturalistic movements. Although she was always being vaunted for her lyrical port de bras, people always remember the way she died on stage or a run, rather than the brilliance of a particular step or beauty of a particular line. For pedestrian movement elevated to art. That said, the lack of density in the choreography in Lavrovsky's ballet has allowed today's dancers to expolit their new, improved hyper-extended lines and sky high extensions.

A short while later, choreographer Antony Tudor created his own Romeo and Juliet on the dancers of American Ballet Theatre. Instead of the Prokofiev score, he used music from an opera by Delius. His leads were Alicia Markova, the leading romantic dancer of the era, and Hugh Laing, Tudor's longtime partner known for his brooding good looks and dramatic gifts.

The piece was much more compact, concentrated and stylized than the earlier ballet. While the piece was well received, it is not seen as often, one because the Tudor repertoire is not mounted as often as others, and two because the piece was created for American Ballet Theatre, which now chooses to primarily do the following version of the piece.

Kenneth McMillan created his version of the ballet on a new up and coming generation of dancers at the Royal Ballet. Lynn Seymour and Christopher Gable (seen above) were his inspiration for the Shakespeare's young, foolish lovers. Seymour, in particular, was a new kind of dancer. Human, sensual, visceral, and passionate. Unfortunately, for Gable and Seymour, the management of the company felt that given the scope that the production had taken on, that the parts should be given to the superstars of the day, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev.

The piece did indeed add to the Fonteyn/Nureyev mystique (and the coffers of the ballet company), but it was never designed to be a "star' vehicle. Seymour and Gable did get to perfom the piece and had wonderful careers apart from this, but the ballet which should have become synonymous with their names, has not.
McMillan's choreography has probably become the most recognizable to modern audiences, with its unique lifts and complicated transtions. It is more like Lavrovsky's in scope than Tudor's, complete with a numerous scenes of swordfighting, jostling with prostitutes, and manly rough housing (with pirouettes of course!) Lots of capes, too!

But that isn't all, choreographers like Frederick Ashton, John Neumier, and John Cranko have also had their swing at R & J...

Rudolph Nureyev's version for the Paris Opera is beyond difficult. So much so that you find yourself asking, "Really? Can't you just cut the dancers some slack for a second?"

And just because dancers have done one version, doesn't mean they can't "shop around." Witness Vladimier Vasiliev and Ekaterina Maximova, below in the Lavrovsky ballet...

And then again in a version by Maurice Bejart...

So why do I need to do Romeo and Juliet? Especially, since a version was done a some years back here at SDB by Thor Sutowski.

Well, the answer would be because the time seemed right. So next, I'll have some rehearsal photos and a bit of a discussion on my own feelings about Romeo and Juliet. Or Juliet and Romeo, as it turns out.



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