The point of the event, of course, is the presence of Natalya Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev as the lovers. For nine consecutive performances, they are appearing in Ashton’s 1955 staging of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, as presented by the Peter Schaufuss Ballet, and a very curious event it is.
Ashton bequeathed the rights for this production to Schaufuss, whose mother (Mona Vangsaae) was the first Juliet, and whose father was Ashton’s Mercutio. The curiosity of the staging is that Ashton made it for the Royal Danish Ballet before he – or we – had seen the grand surge of Leonid Lavrovsky’s production for the Moscow Bolshoi troupe. Lavrovsky, working with Prokofiev, dictated many stylistic attitudes to later creators, not least Kenneth MacMillan, whose version has so made its mark on public understanding and appreciation of the score and its potential.
Ashton’s manner is modest, classically exact, demanding that finesse in performance that made him a lyric poet in dance, and I find it now at odds with the urgencies of its score. This Schaufuss revival is thin, its minimal design no more than a flight of stairs and a series of dull black and white projections to suggest locale. Verona is seriously under-populated, the plague on both houses having taken a terrible toll: the town can muster only a seething mob of 10 inhabitants beside its aristos who, at Tuesday night’s gala, were such visiting luminaries as Stephen Jefferies and Marguerite Porter, both admirable as Juliet’s parents. The lovers, whose choreography is eloquently stylish, exist in a world of thin dramatics beyond the obligatory parental fist-shaking, and the threadbare production does nothing to give weight to events. Osipova and Vasiliev do, of course, what their admirers expect them to do.
Their dancing, their presences, are potent, grand in scale, if sometimes self-reliant rather than trusting Ashton’s steps, though I thought Osipova’s Juliet gained in urgency as the action developed, and in the later scenes – the staging is given in two acts – had tragic dignity.
I was much impressed by Alban Lendorf, a leading dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet, his Mercutio superbly shown in step and feeling. English National Ballet’s orchestra did well by Prokofiev’s (somewhat curtailed) score under Graham Bond’s baton.