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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

WASHINGTON--The tickets 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.

Ananiashvili certainly 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 read.

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 'dead.'

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.

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