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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 16 August 2005—Rudolf Nureyev's own version of Romeo and Juliet, created for Festival Ballet in 1977, which he reworked and staged for the Paris Opéra Ballet in December 1984, is a glorious larger-than life, colourful fresco set in turbulent Verona. Throughout the entire ballet, so much is happening for so much of the time, it is difficult to know where to look.

Nureyev, fascinated by the similarities of Renaissance Italy and Elizabethan England, followed Shakespeare's drama closely, bringing each page to life, portraying a brutal, violent and sensual society.  And although he highlighted the clash between the Montagues and Capulets, developing the personalities of Tybalt and Mercutio, champions of the two warring families, and gave greater clarity to such 'secondary' figures as Paris, the discarded young suitor, Juliet is at the centre of the work. Wilful and determined, she rebels against both her parents and the web of social restrictions which threaten her. It is a ballet which is made for a company as a whole, and does not normally rely solely on the brilliance of its main interpreters.

Elisabeth Maurin as Juliette
© Photo: Icare

However, on the 27th and 29th of June, privileged audiences were able to see the last performances of lovely Elisabeth Maurin, small, blond, and blue-eyed, one of Europe's most intensely dramatic ballerinas. For, although the role was not created for her, she has made it her own. There have indeed been many wonderful Juliets, both in Nureyev's production and in others, but Maurin remains unforgettable. There is something about this very special and exceptionally musical dancer, a vulnerability which goes straight to one's heart. Combining sweetness, spontaneity and passion, she allows the role to carry her and possesses a depth of emotion which you feel. At   the beginning she is beguilingly young and playful despite her 42 and a half years, and later, transported by her love for Romeo, she becomes expressive and lyrical.

Elisabeth Maurin and Benjamin Pech in Romeo et Juliette
© Photo: Icare

When her parents try to force her to marry Paris, she defies them in anger; this is no frail and unhappy heroine. She made the audience shiver with her in her tomb, and share her horror at the realisation that the plans had misfired and Romeo was dead.

Laurent Hilaire was a magnificent Tybalt. To start with, he looked the part as he strode around the impressive Bastille stage viciously slashing at the air with his sword. Even if one hadn't known the story, it was obvious something bad was going to happen. The instant he darkened the stage, the atmosphere in the theatre became as oppressive as Ezio Frigerio's lavish and opulent scenery and Prokofiev's dissonant music. At times, it was hard to breathe. By turns sullen or vindictive, always menacing, Hilaire's aggressiveness was in startling contrast to the light-hearted, mercurial Emmanuel Thibault, a brilliant Mercutio,  comparable only to Covent Garden's legendary David Blair.*

Clotilde Vayer and Laurent Hilaire in Romeo et Juliette
© Photo: Icare

That Emmanuel Thibault fully understood Shakespeare's sense of fun was particularly shown in his outrageous mimicry of the lovesick Romeo, and in the hilarious scene with the nurse, which had the whole theatre laughing. His dancing was light and quick, his jumps high and melodic, soft and supple, and his ability to deal simultaneously with both the comic and tragic elements of the work quite amazing He was a joy to watch. Youthful Christophe Duquenne, programmed to dance Romeo in another cast, was an excellent Benvolio.
Moreover, the audience was treated to an impressive Lady Capulet in the figure of the beautiful Clothilde Vayer, whose tall, aristocratic presence was the perfect foil to the slightness and delicate charm of Maurin.

Not least, twenty year old Josua Hoffalt made a promising appearance as young Paris, so handsome that one wondered what Maurin saw in her Romeo, danced by premier danseur, Benjamin Pech.  This was defiance of authority in the extreme! Although Pech, a last minute replacement for an injured Manuel Legris whose own career is also ineluctably coming to an end, danced gallantly to the best of his capabilities, he had neither the bearing, the technique nor the looks for Romeo. 
Maurin's departure, albeit to the Opéra school in Nanterre where she will be teaching the fourth division, nevertheless marks the end of a golden era. However, Rudolf Nureyev's stars, a group of particularly gifted young twenty-year olds he guided and formed, remain in the school and company transmitting their knowledge to the next generation of dancers. Laurent Hilaire has recently been appointed ballet master, working alongside such vibrant personalities as Clothilde Vayer, and teachers Ghislaine Thesmar, Noella Pontois, and Florence Clerc, while Maurin has joined the prestigious team at the Nanterre school, now run by Elisabeth Platel.

Elisabeth Maurin at the Ballet de l'Opéra national de Paris

At the end of the performance on the 29th,  spectators, many of whom had been  present for the two unique evenings, stood with tears in their eyes as hundreds upon thousands of scented rose petals came fluttering down on the stage as Maurin swept to her knees in a last, deep curtsey.

*Blair died in London in 1976 at the age of 43


Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for

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