Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
In the crazy way these things sometimes happen. Washington has seen not one but two relatively new ballet versions of "Romeo and Juliet" introduced this same week.
The first was Nureyev's production for the London Festival Ballet at Kennedy Center, which runs through the weekend. The second, seen in one performance only at Wolf Trap Thursday, was a totally different conception by Oscar Araiz, premiered in Buenos Aires in 1970 and mounted by the Joffrey troupe for the first time last year as its first evening-length production.
Both the Nureyev and the Araiz use the Prokofiev score composed in 1935, and both are unconventional. There the resemblance ends, and the comparison becomes a matter of apples and oranges.
In a nutshell, the Nureyev version is a flawed but fascinating personal envisagement of the tragedy couched in a fundamentally classical idiom. The Araiz, in an indiscriminate melange of styles, is a collection of arty effects in search of a reason for being.
One could forgive many things about the Araiz had they been justified by the whole. The fracturing and rearrangement of the music, for instance - a choreographer uses music to serve the ends of the dance, and what's valid is what works. Similarly, one could excuse the absence of Benvolio, Friar Laurence and other characters, and even the dance clinches out of Tetley, Cranko, Graham, Lavrovsky and heaven knows how many other choreographers.
But Araiz, the prolific Argentinian whose "Le Sacre du Printemps" left a strong impression when the Royal Winnipeg company did it at Kennedy Center some seasons ago, has not got his act together in "Romeo and Juliet" - there's no love, no tragedy, nothing to involve us in the drama besides esthetic gimmickry.
The most conspicuous gimmick is the use of three dancers to portray Juliet, or different aspects of Juliet (maiden, sensually awakened woman and doomed heroine). On the face of it, it's not an unpromising idea: Martha Graham managed the same thing brilliantly for Joan of Arc in "Seraphic Dialogue."
But Araiz gets all tangled up between trying to tell the story and make comments on it at the same time. The end results is to split our empathy with Juliet three ways, without ever healing the rift. The ballet also vacillates between Brechtian stylization (no sets, dancers in whiteface, practice clothes) and evocation of a period (vaguely Renaissance costumes) but never makes sense out of the dichotomy.
As usual with a Joffrey performance, the ballet was the occasion for some fine dancing, particularly from Kevin McKenzie as Romeo, Beatriz Rodriguez as Juliet No. 3 and Gary Chryst as Tybalt, but nothing could have dispelled the underlying chaos of the opus.