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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 7 NOVEMBER 2007—Although the Paris Opéra Ballet possesses several versions of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, it had never danced to Berlioz' symphonic score inspired by the lovers of Verona. An evening combining music, song and dance was duly programmed as a sequel to the sublime Orpheus and Eurydice, Gluck / Bausch production, followed by the less successful L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, Handel / Orlin .

The result was a spectacular musical evening at the Palais Garnier where Gergiev was king but where the Paris Opera dancers were given little opportunity to shine. Whereas the Russian was conducting the glorious score by Berlioz with the Orchestra and chorus of the Opéra of Paris rising to the occasion, the dancers for the most part were condemned to a secondary role by the uninspired choreography of Sasha Waltz.

The German born choreographer, who never studied classical ballet but concentrated on expressionist studies with Waltraud Kornhaas before joining the School for New Dance Development in Amsterdam, explained in a press conference that she was creating a timeless and abstract work around the characters of Romeo and Juliet. Friar Laurence was to be present as a third, rather shadowy figure. Looking like the image of Juliet herself with her long dark hair, pale oval face and cherry-red mouth, Waltz spoke of her intention to break down the story to bring out the rivalry between the Montagues and Capulets, her prime interest being to show the lovers' sacrifice which brought peace to the feuding families. She said she planned to give equal importance to love, hate and violence.

Aurelie Dupont and Hervé Moreau in Romeo and Juliet
Choreography Sasha Waltz
Music: Hector Belioz
Photo: Bernd Uhlig
Photo courtesy of Opéra national de Paris

However, on stage there was little emotion. The choreography was cold. Aurelie Dupont as Juliet has rarely looked so beautiful, but her sophistication and maturity were disconcerting in the role of a lovesick teenager meant to represent youth and innocence. Juliet was not 20, but 13 when she met Romeo. Brilliantly partnered by étoile Hervé Moreau as the tragic young hero, Dupont was at her best in the central pas de deux, the highlight of the work for the Opéra dancers. Moreau, a highly gifted artist, danced with sensitivity and as much passion as the choreography would allow but throughout the production, it was not what Moreau danced but his interpretation of it that left a mark. How much of it was his own and how much was the work of the choreographer is impossible to know as Waltz is known for leaving her dancers room for improvisation. Both Moreau and Dupont had worked in Berlin with her company, Sasha Waltz and Guests, to better understand her style.

The way Waltz' choreography veered backwards and forwards between abstraction and story telling, apparently to "remind" us of what is happening, was bewildering. Why go back at the end to the story? It didn’t work. Moreover, the passages of dance to silence were also of limited interest.

Aurelie Dupont and Hervé Moreau in Romeo and Juliet
Choreography Sasha Waltz
Music: Hector Belioz
Photo: Bernd Uhlig
Photo courtesy of Opéra national de Paris

Even the costumes were not memorable although initially the idea to dress the members of the two families respectively in black or white was interesting. Many of Bernd Skodzig's costumes, supposedly symbolic, were odd, fussy little numbers out of Mardi Gras, while the headdresses of the chorus at one moment, no matter where the inspiration came from, were a cross between a mortarboard and a lampshade, with lavatory paper hanging over the sides and across the singer's faces. It was hard to understand too, in a company legendary for wonderful costumes, why the girls wore such ugly tutus, with layers upon layers of heavy frills sticking out.

Such costumes were at odds with the simplistic, cubist décor conceived by Pia Maier-Schriever, Thomas Schenk, and the choreographer herself, the culmination of which came with the burial of Juliet, where Dupont was covered in grey pebbles and earth.

What raised the level of the evening was the extraordinary musical presence of Valery Gergiev in the orchestra pit, with mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Gubanova, tenor Yann Beuron and the outstanding, charismatic Russian baritone, Mikhail Petrenko, dominating the stage. Unfortunately, the available photographs give no indication of the magnificence of the production.

Patricia Boccadoro is dance editor at

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Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet; Choreography: Rudolf Nureyev

Interview: Valery Gergiev at The White Nights Festival

Bolsheviks, Music and Opera at Russia's White Nights Festival

Classical CD Review: Prokofiev: The Complete Symphonies; Valery Gergiev, conductor

Classical CD Review: Berlioz, the Fourth B

Classical CD Smart Buy: Berlioz: Roméo et Juliette

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