Mariinsky Ballet: Romeo and Juliet review – leads save dated classic

Royal Opera House, London
The violence is hammy, as are some performances in Lavrovsky's seminal ballet, but Vladimir Shklyarov and Diana Vishneva are nearly flawless

The Russians have every reason to cherish their seminal production of Romeo and Juliet. Choreographed by Leonid Lavrovsky in 1940, the scale and intensity of its storytelling influenced a generation of dancers and choreographers when it was first shown in the west. Yet as it opens the Mariinsky's season, this Romeo and Juliet looks not so much a classic as a very dated relic.

Some of the problems are intrinsic to Lavrovsky's original choreography, in particular the staging of the Montague-Capulet feud, which lacks any real threat of violence. Act two is dominated by merry townsfolk shaking tambourines, rather than blood-hungry gangs, itching to use their swords.

Other faults in the production, however, could be fixed by attending to the stagecraft of its cast. Veteran dance actor Vladimir Ponomarev now plays Lord Capulet with exactly the same eye-rolling melodrama and listing gait that he brings to the roles of Don Quixote or the High Brahmin in La Bayadère. Yuri Smekalov's prancing Tybalt wears a smirk of entitlement that's more Made in Chelsea than diabolical thug, and the generic miming of the chorus creates a collective air of disengagement.

There are other performances onstage that seem to be taking place in a different ballet and on a different plane, most rivetingly those of the two lovers. Vladimir Shklyarov is a near flawless Romeo, with clear buoyant lines in his dancing and selfless romantic intensity in his acting. Diana Vishneva's Juliet is exquisitely responsive, maturing from childish wilfulness to a stricken awareness of the forces ranged against her. Their death scene together is wrenching: Romeo lifting Juliet's body up to the night sky, as if berating the gods. And the final tableau where the stage fills with candlelit mourners is Russian ballet at its epic finest.

• Until 31 July. Mariinsky season runs until 16 August. Box office: 020-7304 4000. Venue: Royal Opera House, London.

Contributor

Judith Mackrell

The GuardianTramp

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