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R O M E O and J U L I E T

b y rP a t r i c i a rB o c c a d o r o

Ballet de l'Opéra de Paris: Romeo and Juliet 
Music: Serguei Prokofiev; Choreography: Rudolf Nureyev; Scenery: Ezio Frigerio; Costumes Ezio Frigerio and Mauro Pagano

PARIS, 7 August 1998- In its own way, Paris gave as much a rapturous reception to its expatriate ballerina, Sylvie Guillem, as to its victorious world-cup football champions.

People queued in vain at the Opéra Bastille for places to see one of the six performances of Guillem, who returned to Paris this summer to dance in Manon (choreography Kenneth MacMillan), Don Quixote (choreography Rudolf Nureyev), and Romeo and Juliet (choreography Rudolf Nureyev).

Created in 1977 for London Festival Ballet, Nureyev’s Romeo and Juliet, a large-scale highly colourful fresco set in turbulent Verona was re-worked for the French company in 1984.

With its exciting, innovative choreography, over-sumptuous decor, the production was " up-dated"» in 1995, and a supporting cast of some of the finest dancers in Europe, what better setting could there have been for Sylvie Guillem, who left her home company nearly ten years ago .

As far as technique was concerned, Guillem’s performance in the role of Juliet on July 2nd was stupendous. Clad in a white floating gown, her hair tumbling over her shoulders, she seemed to have sprung out of a Botticelli painting and her pas de deux with Laurent Hilaire, whose dancing was flawless, was of great lyrical beauty.

But alas, this was no spectacular gala evening but a full-length dramatic work and I felt that there was a chill in her heart and a coldness in her eyes at odds with the spontaneous, passionate and trusting nature of the thirteen year old heroine . Guillem’s exceptional gifts, so well suited to contemporary works, had little to do with Juliet. She danced more with effrontery than wonder, too worldly to be a fragile teenager on the threshold of a gigantic love-affair. Frankly, she was too sure of herself.

Some time before, I had had the privilege of seeing Elisabeth Maurin and Manuel Legris interpret the same roles. Chosen by Nureyev himself to dance Romeo in the filmed version of the ballet, the boyish Legris, whose impeccable technique is always at the service of his art, was both romantic and dreamy, exactly as the choreographer intended him to be.

Elisabeth Maurin and Manuel Legris

Maurin, like Lynn Seymour for whom MacMillan created the role of Juliet in his 1965 ballet, is one of the greatest dramatic ballerinas of the end of this century. As the curtain rose, she danced with the gentleness and radiance of a young adolescent, becoming violent with frustrated desire and increasingly tragic as the story unfolded.

She understood that Nureyev saw the willful, impetuous Juliet as the motivator of the tragedy, and she gave a unique interpretation which had the most hardened member of the audience in tears.

I am hard on Sylvie Guillem because the importance of such "complete " classical works cannot be over-emphasised. As Rudolf Nureyev told me many years ago : " I have given many romantic ballets shape, content, substance, and visual effect ; they are a school in themselves for the perpetuation of classical dance in the future ".

His quick-moving version stays close to Shakespeare’s play which he read and re-read incessantly. Convinced that Elizabethan England and Renaissance Verona were both highly sexual and violent times, as is the world today, he chose to emphasise the social conflict of the feuding families. He developed the characters of the spirited Mercutio, champion of the Montagues, and Tybalt, the dangerous, vindictive, Mafioso leader of the Capulets as well as the rôle of Paris which he created for the young Laurent Hilaire.

The crowd scenes, the Capulet ball, and the electrifying sword-fights are magnificent, and demonstrate one of Nureyev’s main aims as director in Paris ; to give as many opportunities to as many dancers as he could.

During rehearsals, he would show the dancers the video of Robbins’ West Side Story, the influence of which can be seen if one looks carefully.

Elisabeth Maurin, the ballerina dearly loved by Nureyev, belongs to that category of dancers who touch your heart and bring tears to your soul, whereas with Guillem one marvels at her flawless dancing as she soars through the air. But is so much physical perfection really a quality ?

Photo: Elisabeth Maurin et Manuel Legris
Courtesy: Icare / Moatti


Romeo and Juliet (choreography Rudolf Nureyev) Paris Opéra Ballet 1995.
With Monique Loudiéres, Manuel Legris, and Charles Jude (in the rôle of Tybalt).A co-production Bel Air media and La Sept-Arte. N.V.C. Arts, directed by Alexandre Tarta.

Beautifully filmed despite unfortunate shots from the orchestra pit, and an opportunity to see the unforgettable Loudieres in one of her greatest roles.

Romeo and Juliet (choreography Kenneth Macillan) The Royal Ballet Covent Garden 1965.
With Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev (Desmond Doyle as Tybalt), conducted by John Lanchbery.

Filmed during the golden years of the British company, and with the immortal, timeless decor and costumes of Nicholas Georgiadis. Not just a collector’s item, but a must for all who love dance. Fonteyn and Nureyev have given strong personal twists to a brilliant work, originally created for two other dancers.

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