“Romeo and Juliet” – Prokovief’s ballet performed by the Bolshoi in a production by Alexei Ratmansky – is out in cinemas across the UK for one day only on Sunday, 11 October. Our contributor Margy Kinmonth reviews the film before the screening.
I miss going to the ballet, to experience breathtaking live performances in the flesh. The last time I was in the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow was at Christmas, sitting on gold chairs in a sea of plush velvet. Now the pandemic has changed everything…we watch things at home in our pyjamas. But something’s come along that’s well worth going out for.
“Romeo and Juliet” is an incredible moviegoers’ treat. Sergei Prokovief’s music score is distinctive and familiar, the sound is so good – the orchestra which could be right here in the room. Gifted ex Bolshoi choreographer Alexei Ratmansky of the American Ballet Theatre, is famous for restaging traditionally classical ballets for large companies. And this is no exception, he powerfully brings out the modernity of the company in this classic tale of forbidden love.
Igor Tsvirko, who dances Mercutio, says “this production is not an easy work, it’s hard to learn the choreographical language of Ratmansky. He’s very musical, with so many moves in every phrase. You have to switch off your brain, then approach the character and fulfil the emotions, which are both teasing and ironic”
This production may not be for purists, with its fast fancy footwork and Prokovief’s syncopated rhythms, but I was totally transported into the spectacle and loved every minute of it.
The stripped back set is designed by Richard Hudson (“Lion King”) and inspired by my favourite Italian artist Piero della Francesco, with the surreal overtones of Giorgio de Chirico.
We are transported into the world of the Italian Renaissance, with a ravishing colour palette of reds – ochre, terracotta and appropriately for Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, blood red. Gorgeous lighting and acres of vermilion velvet curtains echo the emotions of love and violence.
At the Court we’re actually inside the painting. There’s a seamless dynamic flow of energy in the swashbuckling swordfights. The three male friends dance the trio dance together, playfully showing their macho strength. Romeo has the ability to control the flow of moves with expressive arms and a heady confection of gravity defying jumps.
The musical themes are fluid and interlacing, the wind instruments and climactic brass remind me of Prokovief’s other mastery of characterisation, in his other masterpiece “Peter and the Wolf”.
As a filmmaker who has directed plenty of ballet films, I’m often asked difference between the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky style. Legendary Maya Plisetkaya, Soviet prima ballerina assoluta of Bolshoi Ballet of Moscow, who features in my film “Mariinsky Theatre” probably defined the Bolshoi trademark with her unique death defying jumps. The Bolshoi is known for it’s passionate dancing and flashier style, while the Mariinsky portrays the elegant lyrical refinement of its classical roots. Watching this Bolshoi “Romeo and Juliet” certainly is a spectacular and unforgettable experience.
The live performance is well captured on film, with multi camera coverage. Closeups reveal the Russian jawline of dancer Vladislav Lantratov as handsome, sexy Romeo, paired with the liquid ethereal form of Juliet, danced by Ekaterina Kysanova. Lantratov says “they are young people who believe in their love until the end”.
So to Act Three, for the final ending, it was Shakespeare who decided on the lovers’ destinies, and he chose poison – deadly nightshade (atropa belladonna) for Juliet, and cyanide (medieval monkswood) for Romeo. Spoiler alert. Originally in Russia, Romeo and Juliet had a happy ending (contrary to Shakespeare). The ballet was posponed for political reasons in 1930s, and then it reappeared again in 1940 at the Kirov, but this ending at the Bolshoi is the one we know today.