Perm State Ballet

April 12, 2002

Perm State Ballet

Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts
Los Angeles, CA

April 12?14, 2002

Reviewed by Donna Perlmutter

Because Prokofiev’s great ballet score Romeo and Juliet has inspired such choreographers as Leonid Lavrovsky, Frederick Ashton, John Cranko, and Kenneth MacMillan to the heights of their powers, it seems perverse for someone to come along and give short shrift to the carefully worked-out story it illuminates.

But Nikolai Boyarchikov, whose 1972 setting of the Shakespeare tale is ensconced in Russia’s Perm Ballet repertory, does just that. While Prokofiev’s collaborator, Lavrovsky, produced an organic retelling of the story to match the composer’s and playwright’s, this version lacks context and thus squanders the emotional momentum that any important narrative must have. What Boyarchikov gives us is a cut-and-paste pastiche, a suite of dances loosely based on Romeo and Juliet?its music abridged and accompanying different action than what Lavrovsky notated.

Only those who are happy to see the work transformed into an anti-verismo spectacle can cheer. The signal moment, for instance, when Juliet clambers from the roundly maternal folds of the Nurse’s lap to discover her adulthood doesn’t happen here. How can it, when that Nurse is a svelte and sexy young thing who dances full out, rises on half-pointe, and flirts with Mercutio? (For Boyarchikov, there apparently are no maternal figures.) And when Romeo and Juliet stare transfixed at each other it is not before an open court of witnesses?without which the social conflict underpinning the tragedy dissipates. Nor is there a balcony scene, effectively canceling Juliet’s heartbeat-rapid ascent up the stairs as the music’s magical and climactic chromaticism dictates.

Instead Boyarchikov gives us lots of formal ensemble dances?five moonstruck couples wafting about in white as they stole attention from the central love duets; peasants in brightly colored costumes doing sprightly numbers that bore no reference to the ballet; and parental authority figures in garish red whose expressionistic Bolshoi movement (à la Alberto Alonzo’s Carmen) were at least menacing.

Yet the dancers rose above their choreographic handicap. Natalia Moiseeva, a blonde beauty of a Juliet, leavened her high extensions with soaring lyricism. Vitaly Poleshchuk, a danseur noble prototype, boasted technique to spare as Romeo but could not quite match his partner’s moving characterization. The others, including Nikolai Vyuzhanin (Mercutio) and Radiy Miniakhmetov (Tybalt), relished the dancing opportunities while injecting as much character as possible. Valery Platonov, who led the company orchestra, easily located the marvelous musical pulse despite the abridged score.