Romeo and Juliet, Royal Opera House, ballet review: An explosive yet creaking production

3.00

Stellar cast work with, and sometimes against, a very dated production

The Mariinsky Ballet opens its London season with radiant young lovers in a creaky old production. In the leading roles, Diana Vishneva and Vladimir Shklyarov are stellar as well as star-crossed, with ardent charisma and plush, expansive dancing. Leonid Lavrovsky’s staging, created in 1940, is showing its age.

The Mariinsky – renamed the Kirov Ballet during the Soviet era, when this Romeo was first staged – is one of the world’s greatest and grandest ballet companies, its visits eagerly awaited. This London summer season promises some excitingly varied repertory and a sight of the company’s next generation. For the first night, however, it stuck with established names.

It’s easy to see why Vishneva is an international star. With her dark eyes, flowing line and a vivid sense of drama, she makes an innocently eager Juliet. Lavrovsky gives Juliet a signature low arabesque position: with Vishneva, the step shines out, clear and lyrical. Her footwork is gleamingly quick and sure. 

She even makes the production’s stiffness work for her. Her Juliet is a young woman who hasn’t yet been coached into artificiality, though she can put on grown-up airs for her parents and their party, crossing her wrists like the ballet’s affected court ladies. Falling for Romeo, she’s both serious and very direct. When Shklyarov lifts her high, she looks down at him with wonder.

Shklyarov’s Romeo is devotedly romantic. I love the moment when, waiting for Juliet in Friar Lawrence’s cell, he arranges a line of lilies for her, literally strewing her path with flowers. In the balcony scene, he whirls through a heroic series of jumps and turns: his soaring steps match the surge of Prokofiev’s score, and of Romeo’s emotions. His partnering is steady and tender.

They’re terrific, but they’re working with, and sometimes against, a very dated production. In 1956, when the Bolshoi Ballet became the first Soviet troupe to visit the West, this Romeo caused a sensation for its full-blooded vigour. It’s now gone stale, with wigs, makeup and gestures all highly exaggerated.

Vladimir Ponomarev’s Lord Capulet staggers through the action in full-on ham mode, every movement overwrought and unlikely. There are heavy-handed, Soviet-friendly class issues, too. Romeo and his friends flirt respectfully with hard-working tavern girls; Tybalt, being a wrong ’un, is accompanied by curly-haired courtesans who jeer at the poor. 

The Mariinsky go through the motions, while the leads try to rethink the work. In the tomb scene, Vishneva’s first sight of dead Romeo is a beautifully realised shift from happy recognition to fear. Then she adds a silent scream, before finally throwing her arms to the sky with old-school heroics. Three reactions is too many: there’s a tension between her dramatic instincts and the staging.

Still, there are glimpses of this company’s dance strength. In the town scenes, there’s clean line and execution from the corps de ballet, with lilting upper bodies and crisply stretched feet.

Boris Gruzin conducts a bristling account of Prokofiev’s explosive score.

Until 31 July. The Mariinsky season continues until 16 August. Box office 020 7304 4000

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen