Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
The fascination of the new ballet version of "Romeo and Juliet" which the London Festival Ballet presented at the opening of its two-week Kennedy Center season Tuesday night is the way it reflects its author - Rudolf Nureyev, who's not only the architect of the production, but its chief dancing protagonist as well.
Every work of art mirrors its creator, of course. But this ballet seems almost a personal projection of Nureyev, an emanation of his every aspect - his tempestuous Byronic spirit, his restless, probing mind, the breadth of his dance culture, his exploratory urge, his independence, his superb understanding of theater.
It also puts him in a role with which he's been closely identified for a major portion of his career. Nureyev first danced as Romeo opposite Margot Fonteyn in 1965, in the world premiere of Kenneth MacMilan's version for the Royal Ballet.
Nureyev has tried his hand at many things in the interim, but it can be no accident that for the subject of his first full-length original choreographic essay, he turned once more to this Shakespearean text and the great Prokofiev score it inspired.
Nureyev's production, created for the London Festival Ballet and premiered by that troupe in England last year, also exhibits one further trait of his not yet mentioned - his still incredible force as a stage presence. At 40, he's no longer quite the hair-raising virtuoso he was 13 years ago, but the theatrical voltage he radiates is, if anything, more intense than ever.
The "Romeo and Juliet" he's given us seems more starkly medieval than wantonly Elizabethan, though both attributes make themselves felt. Nureyev also never lets us forget that this is not just a love story, but a tragedy.
The ballet is framed at both ends by four macabre hooded figures playing dice - an intimation of the sense of fatefulness that will pervade the whole work, and a hint of its symbolic tone as well. The image of the wheel of fortune is a recurring one, in the ballroom scene of Act I and in the duel scene.
There are any number of striking, intelligent touches in the choreography and staging throughout - a boisterous, amusing trio for Romeo and his sidekicks, Mercutio and Benvolio, for instance; the sense of menace clearly implied by Prokofiev's music and so brilliantly captured in the general dance for the Capulets in the ballroom scene; the ferocity of the duels and Nureyev's shrewd solution to the protracted death music for Mercutio and then Tybalt; the dying beggar who gives Romeo the shudders before his entry into the Capulet's domain.
Except for Romeo's searingly despairing solo in Benvolio's arms (when he learns of Juliet's supposed death) - which got a special, deserved hand on its own - there are no specially memorable set pieces. But there is conspicuous evidence, here and there, of Nureyev's contacts with American modern dance, not just in such things as Grahamesque falls and contractions, but in a quartet involving Juliet, Paris and the senior Capulets that pays direct homage to Jose Limon's "The Moor's Pavane" (on another Shakespearean subject, be it noted - "Othello"). How well all this is integrated stylistically into the whole is difficult to assess after a single viewing.
The company as a whole demonstrated the kind of fine aptitude for theatricalized dance that seems to be an English trademark. Eva Evdokimova's Juliet was beautifully danced but somewhat pallied - this was certainly not the lusty Juliet we'd been led to expect of the Nureyev production, nor was there much visible romantic current between the leads.
In the major supporting roles, Nicholas Johnson, Kenneth McCombie and Frederic Werner were especially impressive in their assertive masculine presences as Mercutio, Benvolio and Tybalt. Ezio Frigerio's grim, massive sets are surely tragic enough, but scarcely suggest the topic of love: there is, besides, some unresolved discord between their abstract and realistic aspects. Conductor Terence Kern held a sure and sensitive hand over the score, which was a very large asset indeed.