Natalia Makarova may finally have found that ideal new ballet vehicle for herself she's been searching for so long, one that would extend her stage personality beyond the familiar classic and contemporary roles she's assumed thus far, and reveal unsuspected sides to her autistic nature.
Dancing as a guest artist with the Maryland Ballet company in Baltimore's Lyric Theater yesterday, she appeared in the Western Hemisphere premiere of a version of "Romeo and Juliet" by Soviet choreographer Igor Tchernichov.
It's a 45-minute work set to the orchestral suite from Berllor "Romeo and Juliet," with minimal props and no hint of place or period in the costumes - simple colored tights - and decor. The rudiments of Shakespeare's plot retained, but the ballet condenses the story into a few key dramatic encounters. Romeo, Juliet, Mercutio and Tybalt are the sole characters. A corps of 12 is used for emotional embellishment and commentary.
Tchernichove created the piece in 1969 for Makarova, while she was still a member of the Kirov Ballet. The Kirov management, however, found it too extreme in style and never adopted it for their repertoire. Makarova danced Juliet in a private tryout in Russia, with Mikhail Baryshnikov as the Mercutio and Valery Panov as Tybalt, but never appeared in the role in public. The ballet was restaged, with choreographic revisions, for the Maryland Ballet by the choreographer's former wife, Eleha Kittel-Tchernichova, who emigrated to the United States last year.
The choreography is a mixture of classical and modernistic idioms, not very radical by Western standards, but possibly quite adventureous from a Soviet perspective. Juliet is by far the most thoroughly developed role, and while it draws on Makarova's technical resources in many ways, it never aims at mere ostentation. The resultant portrayal by Makarova seems to have extracted from here more genuine passion, subtlety and dramatic insight than almost anything one can recall seeking her dance.
The ballet makes its most telling effect in the two segments - a love tryst and the tomb scene - which involves only Romeo, danced superbly in this production by Ivan Nagy, and Juliet. here the choreography succeeds in distilling something of the essence of the ardor, longing and pain which lie at the heart of the tragedy.
The problem with the work is that aside from a few trenchant passages for Mercutio (Helgi Tomasson) and Tybalt (Sylvester Campbell), the choreography fails to find sustaining dramatic imagery to fill the score. The movement for the corps de ballet, in particular, marks time with inert cliches. The concept is attractive enough, however, to warrant further revision - if everything matched the standard of the lovers' scenes, the ballet as a whole would be a substantial achievement.
Yesterday's program was on a higher choreographic plane in general than the Maryland Ballet has shown us in the past. Balanchine's "Donizetti Variations" proved too much for the company to handle right now, but the work is worth the attempt. A "Pas de Deux Romantique" for Camille Izard and Sylvester Campbell and a solo "Danse Russe" for Anna Aragno were slender but tasteful efforts which served the dancers' talents well. Fernand Nault's "Quintessence" did much the same for the company as a whole.