The Mariinsky is one of the best ballet companies in the world, although you’d never know it from its Romeo and Juliet which opened a two-week visit to Opera House last night. Unlike the Kenneth Macmillan version, whose naturalistic acting and loose-limbed dancing has become pretty much definitive, the Mariinsky production has a 19th-century formality and grandeur that feels old fashioned and out of sync.
In fact, it was only made in 1940, and while it will surely have looked innovative in the then Soviet Union, its style of dancing and, in particular, it style of acting look creaky and pompous to modern-day eyes.
The Capulets and Montagues are little more than pantomime villains, with bad wigs and silly beards. Tybalt (Ilya Kuznetsov) was especially cloak-and-dagger, with a lavish grimace and clenched fists. I honestly don’t know if this style is admired in Russia today, or if it’s just something the dancers have foisted on them. You can’t imagine young performers in the twenties adopting these theatrical quirks out of choice.
Either way, British audiences will find it stunts the story and disconnects them from the tragedy. The lead dancers don’t help as they are so different. Vladimir Shklyaro’s Romeo is a good-looking young dancer with natural manners more in keeping with British taste. He hurtles around like an energetic pup, leaping and spinning with considerable flair.
The very pretty Alina Somova plays Juliet as the Swan Queen. This may be the Russian way, but the jarring different between her style from his makes it hard to believe the two would get it together. Somova also has an extreme technique and exaggerated flexibility that makes her hips and knees look like they’re about to pop inside out. It is not attractive to watch, while her U-shaped split leaps (with both feet higher than her pelvis – all is usually horizontal) are freakishly distracting.
Happily, the Mariinsky is still to dance Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and a Balanchine mixed bill – three ballets the Mariinsky perform with a classical purity we have long admired.