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Near Shakespeare: the St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre.

All’s Well That Ends Well
By Mae G. Banner

St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre
Proctor’s Theatre, March 16

Shakespeare purists might be a little disconcerted at St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s Romeo and Juliet. The production, seen at Proctor’s Theatre, was beautifully danced with a vivid contrast between innocent young love and bawdy comedy, but Shakespeare’s moral lesson about the costs of mindless feuding was erased in favor of a happy-ever-after eternal life in the spirit world.

This non-tragic ending may be deemed politically correct in Russia, or it may be the choreographer’s artistic choice. Either way, choreographer and artistic director Yuri Petukhov has his own conception of the tale—one that eliminates the well-meaning Friar Lawrence and replaces him with a trickster Queen Mab, who incites all the action and manipulates all the characters.

Mab, sinuously danced by Elena Grineva in a spangled black unitard, appears in almost every scene. She tricks Montagues and Capulets alike, goading Romeo and his friends into crashing the Capulets’ ball; providing Mercutio with a gleaming ballgown, so that he can entice Tybalt into dancing with him; provoking the sword fight in which Tybalt kills Mercutio; and then playing the sword like a violin while Mercutio writhes in his final agony.

It’s Mab, too, who hands Juliet the sleeping potion and who gives Romeo the kiss of death that stirs Juliet to horror and suicide when she wakes to see his inert body.

With clouds of dry ice and billowing sheets to cover these pairs of dead bodies, Mab transports Tybalt and Mercutio, and later, Romeo and Juliet to the spirit world, where all enmities and misfortunes are forgotten.

This sounds camp (especially the dry ice), but the dancing is so clean and articulate and the choreography so understated that the production is appealing in spite of its wrong- headedness.

Alexander Akulov and Maria Yakshanova were well-paired as Romeo and Juliet. In their first meeting at the ball, they put their hands to each other’s lips in a solemn pledge. The balcony scene is a duet of discovery with supple backs and free- flying jumps. Juliet somersaults in Ro meo’s arms. Their final duet is tender and heartbreaking as each in turn dances with the limp, lifeless body of the other.

The only problem with the lovers’ duets arises from the choreographer’s heavy hand with a distracting corps that clutters the stage and gets in the way of the principals’ dancing.

This use of the corps seems to be an attempt to be abstract and modern. I felt the same unease about the constructivist set-pieces: two enormous wheels in which Romeo and Juliet are rolled by Mab and her minions, eight long poles with phosphorescent tips that frame certain scenes like tilted lances, and two long swings on which Romeo and Juliet lie like bodies in a morgue. These objects are visually interesting, but they are so obtrusively symbolic that they interfere with the narrative, rather than enhancing it.

Mercutio has always been my favorite in the play because he is so complex and so full of life. In St. Petersburg’s ballet, too, Mercutio expands beyond the limits of a supporting character. Pavel Vinogradov, as fine an actor as he is a dancer, is bold, comical, heroic, sardonic and, finally, tragic. He commands the stage at every exciting turn.

Ilya Zabotin, one leg cross-gartered in red tape, is a jagged, menacing Tybalt. Juliet’s Nurse is danced by a man in the comic tradition of The Nutcracker’s Mother Ginger. Ilya Mironov gives the bawdy role the full burlesque treatment. A small corps in peasant dress fills out the street scenes with folk-like dances.

Prokofiev’s acidic music drives the action relentlessly, interrupted only by Mab’s extraneous “musical episodes” recorded on synthesizer.

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