It’s easy to forget what a privilege it is to see the Bolshoi Ballet without a visa, a flight to Russia and a very expensive theatre ticket. For the past few seasons the Bolshoi has opened up its doors to the rest of the world. The company has invited audiences abroad to join those in Moscow via live screening of a selection of performances.
Now we all can enjoy one of the world’s most admired ballet companies performing not only classics but new productions such as the Ratmansky Romeo & Juliet. And all without having to go beyond the nearest cinema or movie theater.
Lantratov and Krysanova as Romeo & Juliet
The star-crossed lovers in the live-screening in January 2018 were principals Vladislav Lantratov and Ekaterina Krysanova. Both gave passionate performances as the impetuous Romeo and Juliet, blind to everything but each other.
The expressiveness of Lantratov and Krysanova’s dancing was matched by their acting. In each look and gesture the emotions of the story played out. From the first spark of romance at the masked ball, to the soaring joy of their marriage, and the despair of the double suicide, the audience was swept along by this enchanting duo.
Separately, each also commanded attention. Krysanova’s auburn-haired Juliet and her nurse, a delightfully comic character, gave us a lovely scene. Together with the clash of Juliet with her father, a youthful heroine emerges — still in many ways a child — who is taken by surprise by first love. She’s excitable, optimistic, and ultimately defiant.
Lantratov’s Romeo had his own boyish moments when capering with his friend Mercutio and cousin Benvolio. Together, the quick-footed trio unleashed bursts of exuberance in well-matched routines. They were convincing as lads about town looking for amusement, heedless of where this might lead them. But Romeo is maturing, and his love for Juliet pulls him away from boyish pranks. Even with the worst provocation — the death of his dear friend — he is reluctant to fight Tybalt. He knows what the cost must be, in this duel which will end in death.
His convulsive leap on seeing his beloved Juliet apparently dead in the crypt expresses so much. It’s an emotional recoil, a reaction that says more than any words.
Best of the Bolshoi Ballet in Supporting Roles
Leading soloist Igor Tsvirko gave a stand out performance as Mercutio. This livewire was so full of energy that barely a moment passed when he wasn’t in frantic motion. It must have been exhausting, but not for a moment would you have known. The mischief maker didn’t so much find himself in trouble’s way as chase it all the way across Verona.
Speaking of trouble, it found the perfect form in first soloist Vitaly Biktimirov‘s Tybalt. From the first moment he pushed through the crowd, it was clear he was going to be a worthy opponent. Whether goading prostitutes or picking fights, or simply striking a pose, he took complete possession of that stage. His every move was a swagger, his every expression an arrogant challenge. By the time he turned his sword against Romeo, we knew this would be a fight without mercy.
There were many other enjoyable performances, with soloists and corps coming together in exciting group scenes. From fools and cavaliers to street-walkers and even a disgruntled beggar, the company painted a rich picture of Shakespearean Italy. Lord and Lady Capulet cut especially fine figures. The UK’s very own Oscar Frame was one of the four cavaliers at the masked ball. Dressed in green, he was tasked with the challenge of dancing in a cape. (Read more about Oscar Frame and his ballet training.)
Romeo and Juliet Ballet Costumes and Footwear
The Bolshoi costumes often have a more stately and traditional feel than those of companies in the west. But when it came to recreating the Renaissance Italy of art, they hit exactly the right note. Modern simplicity combined with historical shapes for this new production. The calf-length skirts of the female dancers and the hose, tunics and hats of the males created an elegant, understated backdrop. Meanwhile, the hues of their costumes made the corps look as though they had stepped from a fresco. Inspired by the work of Renaissance artist Piero della Francesca, the designer captured this artist’s palette beautifully.
It’s true I didn’t love Mercutio’s Act 1 costume. The modern-looking red checked ‘shorts’ effect, even if inspired by something from the era, was more Spiderman than Renaissance man. The prostitutes in their scarlet stockings and shoes also had a little too much pantomime about their dresses, though this did complement their on-stage antics. But the muted outfits of Romeo and Juliet set the lovers apart as innocent dreamers in a turbulent world. Juliet’s nightgown and grey lace dress were pure romance. Her Romeo, meanwhile, had simple, unfussy outfits that kept the focus on his dancing.
The ballet shoes worn in performances often pass without comment, their job being to blend in. But there was a departure in the Ratmansky Romeo and Juliet from pointe shoes and their male counterparts. On the contrary, in this production the shoes and boots are a key part of the Shakespearean costumes. The townswomen and prostitutes dances in low-heeled leather shoes, while the townsmen wore soft leather shoes (some coordinating and some contrasting with their bi-coloured hose) or calf-length boots. The lead males also wore boots, with pointe shoes reserved for Juliet and her high-society friends.
Set Design for the Ratmansky Romeo & Juliet
The minimalist sets kept the attention on the dancers — a wise decision when every moment had something new to see. The most decorated of the scenes — the masked ball — featured a banqueting table complete with oversized candles, food and flagons. But there was little else here. Though her draped bed dominated Juliet’s bedroom, the rest of the stage was uncluttered. Most of the action, however, played out against the faux perspective of simplified red buildings.
The Importance of Ballet Live Screenings
Behind the dancers taking the bows, let’s remember both the backstage team and those who made the live screening possible. The Bolshoi has a reputation for controversy, with scandal and rumour threatening at times to eclipse the legendary dancing. This is why the live screenings matter so much. Through them, we can be there with the Bolshoi in Moscow, sharing moments in which all else is forgotten. At these times, the Bolshoi Ballet company can simply do what they do best: dance.