Romeo and Juliet, Mikhailovsky Ballet, St Petersburg

With his new Romeo and Juliet, Nacho Duato, the Mikhailovsky Ballet’s director, has created a production that is radically different from its three predecessors at the company. Duato is a modern-dance rather than ballet choreographer, and has wisely stuck to his native idiom rather than essaying classical movement, as in his unpopular recent attempt at The Sleeping Beauty (“not a ‘pas’ of Petipa” ran the strap line).

He has declared that he seeks to evoke Mediterranean light and warmth and in this has utterly failed: the aesthetic is irredeemably northern, nowhere more so than in Jaffar Chalabi’s chicly spare, sombre setting, an ingenious wall of sliding panels that rise to create windows, balconies and doors, and a bank of map drawers that pull out to provide steps, stairs and seating. It is more Scandinavia than fair Verona.

The lighting is moodily and effectively dark, and Angelina Atlagic’s costumes are elegantly cut, contemporary takes on Renaissance dress, hose and doublet. Mikhail Tatarnikov and the vibrant company orchestra mint Prokofiev’s familiar score (judiciously pruned) anew: lemon-sharp strings, acid brass, violent percussion. This is a notable musical performance.

Conceived as a vehicle for superstar Bolshoi fence-jumpers Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, this production nevertheless needs to survive without their stellar presence; Olesya Novikova (Mariinsky guest artist) and Leonid Sarafanov (late of the same, now Mikhailovsky) also dance the eponymous couple. She is a powerful dancer, long of limb, honest of movement and emotionally true, and brings much to her role (and, like all Duato’s women, does not dance on pointe). He cuts a boyish but bland figure, disappointingly emotionless at Tybalt’s death, generically romantic with his Juliet, but dances with undeniable élan.

Duato is much aided by the narrative, which gives form and meaning to his somewhat limited choreographic palette. He is better in crowd scenes than in duets, his brand of populist movement more suited to the marketplace, and he keeps the trademark flexed feet and stomach crunches of modern dance to a blessed minimum. In pas de deux, he is cruelly exposed, and while he shows a deft touch in his stagecraft – Juliet returns at the end of the Balcony duet finally to kiss Romeo – intensity of emotion and beauty of movement both elude him. Even so, his company dance with total commitment to his work.

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