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Shakesperean Ballets over the Years

Today Shakespeare is enjoying greater popularity in the world of ballet than ever before; it would take dozens of pages simply to list all the productions based on his plays. Of Shakespeare's 37 plays, more than a dozen have already been staged. They include his tragedies and romantic dramas. Yet the undisputed leader is Romeo and Juliet.

The most famous musical score for a ballet version of Romeo and Juliet was composed by the Soviet composer Serghei Prokofiev in the 1930s. It was staged by Leonid Lavrovsky in 1940 and first performed in the West in 1956, where it led to a flood of imitations. Almost all subsequent European versions of Romeo and Juliet were based on it.

At the end of the 20 th century ballet preferred Shakespeare's bloody tragedies to his comedies. The latter gave rise to few masterpieces in Russia and in the West. One of them was John Cranko's The Taming of the Shrew (Stuttgart, 1969), whose success was largely due to the great actors Marcia Haydee and Richard Cragun.

The Wives of Windsor were choreographed by Vladimir Burmeister at the Moscow Academic Musical Theatre (1942) in the tradition of dramatic ballet. As to Boris Eifman's Twelfth Night (1985), it was a funny and witty parody of ballet cliches.

Two ballet versions of Shakespeare's comedies were staged at the Boshoi over the years: Vera Boccadoro's Love for Love (1976), based on Much Ado About Nothing, and Cranko's The Taming of the Shew (1996).

In 1946, Leonid Lavrovsky's Romeo and Juliet came to the Bolshoi with Galina Ulanova in the title role. It was replaced in 1979 by Yury Grigorovich's gloomy version.

Today, a new version of this ballet is being staged at the Bolshoi (the third in its history) by the talented Moldovan choreographer Radu Poclitaru and the English director Declan Donellan. This production, which makes use of computer graphics, is rich in stage tricks and quite psychological.

Declan donnellan: I am in favour of doing away with tradition

The famous English director Declan Donnellan - a recognized contemporary interpreter of Shakespeare and one of the directors of the current Bolshoi production of Romeo and Juliet – did not wish to talk about his conception of theatre. After all, anyone who is interested can read about it in Donnellan's book The Acthor and the Target. The Bolshoi production was his first experience of working with ballet. Naturally, we didn't talk about the conception of dance, either. The pugnacious British artists burst into the Russian ballet citadel fully armed and skilfully did away with all the obstacles in their path. As we can see from the following interview given by Donellan an hour before the premiere, the British artists are ready to take up new campaigns against traditional ballet...

Question: Declan, why did you, despite your aversion for traditional ballet, agree to work in one of its main strongholds?

Answer: I've always wanted to stage Romeo and Juliet - a desire that is linked to romantic recollections from my youth. Although I find it amazing, the ballet that I once saw at Covent Garden became deeply imprinted in my mind. To tell the truth, the Bolshoi at first proposed that I stage an opera, not a ballet. In contrast to ballets, I had staged operas in the past. I decided to give it a try.

Did you have any prior experience in this domain?

Not at all! The crazy Russians were probably the only ones who could invite me to stage a ballet in a leading national theatre. Others didn't want to risk it, although I've hinted for a long time in various places that I could try my hand at a ballet production, yet no one took it up... I, too, was too proud to ask seriously. Now, things will be different after the Bolshoi production. I think that I should get other offers: become so smart and self-confident...

What did you like about Russian dancers?

It's all very simple: Russian dance is powerful and rich. It's more than just pretty poses. You've got to make that aspect come to the fore. There are some elements in their dance that make it more important than beautiful form. I'm no formalist: I like emotion. There are nice, pretty girls in the troupe, yet you can find them everywhere. As to the male dancers, they're exceptional. I was captivated by the strength and dynamism of their dance, lit up by inner warmth.

In your television interview, you said that love is everything...

Yes, that's right. It's not a very original though, but love is the basis of our life. Yet there's no love without solitude or separation."

The new stage should be an experimental platform.
The new Romeo and Juliet as seen by the famous Romeo Mikhail Lavrovsky

Mikhail Lavrovsky is not only the son of Leonid Lavrovsky, the famous choreographer of Romeo and Juliet, but also one of the most virile and impressive Romeos of the second generation of Muscovite interpreters of this role. He takes part in the new production, in which he performs the role of Capulet - the smart and dignified gentleman, and the "godfather" Marlon Brando inevitably comes to mind. He puts family interests above everything else. In this regard, he is quite unlike Mikhail Lavrovsky himself, who is very open and fair-minded in matters of traditions and art. We will now let him speak for himself.

“The new production of Romeo and Juliet is indeed a total novelty for us. One gets to see such ballets in the West, yet it's the first time that one sees them staged in Russia. The ballet is interesting and deserves to be shown. I believe that it'd be a mistake to deny its merits. The two versions would run simultaneously - the old one on the old stage ant the new one on the New Stage. Each version would attract its own audience. That's how it's done in the world's theatres, including the Paris Opera,” Mikhail Lavrovsky says.

“The Bolshoi is a theatre of grand classical works. The "golden generation" of the Bolshoi was nurtured on these ballets; thanks to them, our theatre became the leading theatre in the world.

We are fortunate to have New Stage now. It will undoubtedly be a good platform for all kinds of experimental productions as this ballet version by R.Poclitaru and D.Donnellan. Yet we should continue to perform our golden repertoire on the main stage. It would be an ideal arrangement.”

By Elena Uzun

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