back to Flash Reviews
Flash Review 1, 5-31:
The Return of the Bolshoi
An Amazing Ananiashvili, but the Men Steal the Show
By Tehreema Mitha
Copyright 2000 Tehreema Mitha
for last night's opening of the Bolshoi at the Kennedy Center, in
the much-anticipated return of Leonid Lavrovsky's version of Prokofiev's
"Romeo & Juliet" to the United States, were sold out and the hall
was full to the brim with expectation. There has been a lot written
recently about the principal ballerina Nina Ananiashvili and I could
feel that the audience was ready to love her even before she appeared.
is an amazing dancer. Moving smoothly and gracefully, her whole
being involved in the flow, there are no jerks, no unnecessary stops
and starts. The earth and air are one. There is strength, yet an
incredible feeling of lightness in all her dancing.
However, in Act One it
is not her who carries the day. Instead we notice Romeo, danced
this night by Andrei Uvarov. That is, once we know who he is. The
first act, I have to say, moves very very slowly and tends to be
a bit of a blur. No relationships are established, no character
is defined. In fact by the first intermission I was beginning to
wonder what I was missing; for surely I must be missing somethin
The beginning of the
ballet is a strange brief glimpse of Father Lorenzo standing in
the center on a stand and two male figures on either side also raised.
After this moment, the curtain again closes and one is left to blink.
The scene then opens
on the square in Verona. Romeo is the only one awake at dawn. After
a while others start to fill the square. The jolly atmosphere is
created with a lot of group dancing. This was of a high quality
throughout the evening and it is a pleasure to see dancers so well-coordinated
and yet able to have distinct personalities of their own. Soon enough
however the quarreling between the Capulet's servants and those
of Montague starts, and develops into a sword fight. Then, in comes
the Duke, and his edict banning sword fighting in the streets is
All this happens without
one really registering the changes. The happy atmosphere is not
overtaken by an ominous shadow suddenly, as it should be. There
is no feeling of real turmoil or fear, and no tension.
This lack of evolution
continues into the next scene. We are introduced to Juliet, who
is playing with her nurse, teasing her as she tries to dress Juliet.
Ananiashvili makes a good start with her light playful steps, her
childish skips and jumps. But the nurse I found disappointing throughout.
She looks too young for her role and never quite gains that soft,
rounded, hugging personality that is the mark of the character in
the play. Nor is Juliet's relationship to her mother completely
explored. Her father is the other character that never comes out
clearly and seems almost unreal in both anger and paternal affection.
The ball that starts
in scene three is mostly crowded with stiff unimaginative social
dancing which makes you wonder if the costumes have been made too
heavy. Much more could be made of this. The color and cheer is salvaged
by Juliet's young friends and their partners, who are able to execute
their steps with grace, bringing the best of the Bolshoi technique
to the fore.
Juliet's solo in this
ball comes and goes without registering too much. No doubt part
of the beauty of a good dancer is the ability to make everything
look so unaffected and easy. In fact it is not until much later,
in the bedroom scene, that Juliet's character really seems to come
alive. From then on there is emotion in every move. Earlier, however,
Juliet's inexperience, her excitement at her first ball, her vulnerability
-- none of this is obvious. She dances with Paris, her first suitor,
as if he is an old friend. She is not hesitant even when she encounters
Romeo at first.
I felt that the choreography
does not give enough time to Romeo to show his fascination with
this young girl. Nevertheless he is able to show his romantic feelings
right from the start. This is also clear in the balcony scene, where
his beautiful leaps into the air, his turns and arms, all tell of
his exuberance at finding his soulmate. Unfortunately, there is
no passion, no all-consuming fire, between this young girl and her
beau. This, the essence of the story, is not there, at least not
at that time.
I must at this point
mention the music, which is just beautifully conducted (by Alexander
Kopylov) and played throughout. I especially thought of how appropriate
the score seems in scenes like the marriage of Romeo and Juliet,
which might otherwise seem a little insipid if it weren't for that
touching and soul-searing Prokofiev music.
It is in Act Two, scene
three, when Tybalt kills Mercutio, that the ballet comes alive and
the choreography becomes dynamic. The characters take on a life
of their own. The stage is filled with dance in the crowd scenes,
at times grouping the dancers in different formations and suddenly
moving on to the whole lot dancing in synchronization. Although
there is a little left to be desired in the death scene of Mercutio.
His agony is long drawn out while he, very much in character, plays
the fool and keeps everyone guessing as to the extent of his injuries.
The steps are too strongly danced and clearly defined, as he gropes
around the stage. Otherwise, this young dancer, Nikolai Tsiskaridze,
is a perfect choice for the character. In actuality, it would not
be wrong to say that the men as a whole steal the show from the
women. Their long unusually lean bodies belie their strength. While
traditional ballet choreography places a lot of demands on the danseurs
as partners( where sometimes whole scenes seem basically to be choreographed
to show the ballerina off to the best advantage, using the danseur
more as a prop), there seemed to be a fine balance here between
such scenes and those that showed off the male beauty of the ballet
danseur. Tybalt is danced by another strong dancer worthy of special
mention, Dmitri Belogolovstev.
The bedroom scene at
the beginning of Act Three, scene one, makes it all worth waiting
for. Whereas during the balcony scene Juliet and Romeo hardly seem
to look at each other and they kiss the air cold, here there is
agony and tender love. This is real dancing, where there is no separation
between mime, emotion, and technique. The lifts are beautifully
held by Ananiashvili, and effortlessly, smoothly executed by Uvarov.
Their bodies slide against each other in intimate and sweet contact.
Juliet's wish to delay the dawn a little is poignant. Her sorrow
at Romeo's departure and her subsequent reaction to Paris brings
meaning to dancing that would otherwise be a mere series of steps.
This is felt even as she goes to meet Father Lorenzo. In fact one
of the most beautiful aspects of Ananiashvili's dancing is her rushing
steps across the stage, which are amazing in their speed and precision,
at times moving from one scene to another and at others rushing
to her love.
Romeo's solo after his
exile from Verona and when he gets the news of Juliet's supposed
death are simple and short in the extreme. This is somewhat made
up for in the last tomb scene. When he lifts her lifeless body,
holding her, embracing her stiff limbs and holding her aloft, that
gives credit not just to him but the ballerina as well. These are
perhaps the most enduring images of the ballet. Ananiashvili manages
to somehow find that space between stiff and lifeless to, almost
naturally, allow Uvarov to lift her. Since no lift is as simple
as just that, and the ballerina must give herself and her weight
in a way as to facilitate the lift, all of this is no mean achievement
when one must also look dead! There he holds her aloft, high above
his head, his arms outstretched. She is almost straight and yet
she is soft and so youthful. Her toes are pointed, elongating her
body, and yet they do not look as if they are anything but gracefully
Listening to others in
the audience around me discussing the ballet initially, I seem to
hear a lot of "no strength in their dancing; the characters allude
me; there is no build up; she is just wonderful!". But by the end
of the evening there was many a sigh of fulfillment, bemused smiles
and a standing ovation!
"Romeo & Juliet" repeats
May 31 and in matinee and evening performances June 3, with different
casts. On June 1, 2, and in a matinee June 4, the company performs
"Don Quixote". The Bolshoi's tour, produced by the Kennedy
Center and David Eden and only its second to the U.S. in the last
ten years, takes it to Chicago, June 6-11; Seattle, June 13-18;
Los Angeles, June 20-25; and Orange County, California, June 27-July
2. Later this summer, it brings a different program to Lincoln Center.
For more info on the Kennedy Center engagement, go to http://www.kennedy-center.org/calendar/event_details.cfm?event=DABO.
For more info on Nina Ananiashvili, go to http://www.ananiashvili.com/.
Tehreema Mitha is a Maryland-based
dancer, choreographer, and teacher. For more information on Ms.
Mitha, go to http://www.horsesmouth.org/dancers/ny/mitha.htm.
back to Flash Reviews