Romeo and Juliet (Nureyev)
Paris Opera Ballet
July 5th 2005
In the most ungrateful role of Romeo, M. Pech, dancing this role now for the fourth time I believe, has surpassed himself.
Frankly, I don't see how much more can be done with the material Nureyev has given Romeo.
M. Pech is an extremely reliable, indeed, a superb partner, this we already know.
In the past, however, his tendency to dance every step precisely on the strong beat, and as though marking the weak beat as well, just in case we hadn't heard it, can be maddening. One often feels like making the strange sound "RUBATO ?" in the midst of a variation. But such interruptions from the public can be troublesome.
Last night, however, M. Pech began to play with the music, shading away the little barriers he generally erects between each step, and even on occasion, abandoning himself to the music in a way that struck one as quite new in him. NOT easy to do in Nureyev's terrifying choreography. There were, indeed, moments when he seemed to threaten to throw it all away, which to date has been most un-Pech like.
His manèges were a wonder - and they are dreadfully hard - the one with those double-tour landing on one leg fini en dégagé straight from the textbook, et j'en passe.
M. Pech has done away with the few faintly casual or naturalistic gestures that had got in the way on the previous three nights, and now, if he could but forget over-reaching (the windup) when turning three pirouettes, life would be a bowl of cherries.
Seriously though, I may be mad as a hatter, but I found last night's performance a breakthrough for M. Pech, nor can one imagine anyone to be found in Europe at this point, on either side of the Urals, to carry off this particular nightmare of choreography better.
Were it for me (Heavens, Hear me, and give me the power !), I should walk out onto the stage after the performance and appoint both him and Emmanuel Thibault étoile on the spot.
Because, gang, it doesn't get any better than this.
There is not going to be a grand soir, where we are all going to get Revelation like the Christian Fundies, at which another seventeen-year-old will be plucked from the corps de ballet to become étoile. Dancing on the level that we saw last night does not grow on trees, but is the fruit of the most sustained effort, and one is entitled to hope that Management remove what appears to be a largish mote from their eye.
A curious fellow in this country has threatened to use high-pressure hoses (Karcher) on a section of the French population. Priorities all wrong. Someone should take a Karcher to these Goleizovski-style pas de deux, as ludicrous as they are bad for the man's back and shoulders. Nureyev copied this rubbish from MacMillan, who got it from Cranko, who got it from Goleizovski.
Some do not find M. Pech's figure agreeable enough. They would like him to be more photogenic, and have slimmer legs. As it so happens, he is very strong. One has to be, to get through those pas de deux. The matchstick-arms and narrow bosom of a nineteen year old look good on glossy paper.
In theory, of course, the weight of the woman should be entirely supported by the torso's bone structure. That was the theory in the days when choreography did not require that the woman drag and pull on the man's articulations. In practice, so much choreography is now anti-physiological, that unless one build substantial muscle to hold the bones in place, it can't be done.
While in theory, one should be able to lift the woman without gripping the floor, but simply by force and counter-force very like judo, in practice, these lifts are so hellish (try holding the woman upside down by the calves, and swinging her around for several bars of music), that one must literally dig one's foot into the floor and brace one's thighs. All of this does little for the figure.
Footnotes to history: the male of the species is not a packhorse. And the female of the species has feet.
In any event, it seems that Management at Paris is waiting for the miracle-worker who will be tall, good-looking, strong enough to pull off impossible partnering without injury, able to dance Nureyev's incapsubobbulatedeliptically steps until the age of 43, and withal, possessed of slim beautiful legs.
Cloud Cuckoo Land. The Passport Office does not issue travel documents to that destination.
As for Thibault, he has made his Mercutio into a majestic creation. The dancing passages are probably Nureyev's most successful attempt at integrating characterisation, proto-mime as it were, into dance, and to say that Thibault sustained that tension throughout the night, is an understatement. As Juliet imagines that Tybalt and Mercutio are returned from the dead, one's blood runs cold as one looks into the man's eye, sorrowing echo of what was once a being, seeing but not seeing, his footfall seemingly supported by no floor, but an invisible force.
Our new Juliet, who made her début alongside M. Pech on the Saturday, is Laetitia Pujol, a lady whose straightforward, modest and truthful dancing has always marked her out. This was only her second performance in a crushing ballet, and fresh from seeing Elisabeth Maurin, whom it is no exaggeration to describe as the successor of Ulanova in this role, confused emotions got in this writer's way. In a nutshell, I was wiping away tears as the thought of Maurin filled one's mind. Or, put in US-speak, I was spaced out.
At this stage, I think that what one saw was a very lovely sketch, and that we can confidently expect more in future.
Nureyev's crowd scenes on the Square of Verona are an absolute disgrace. We have a male chorus line of high-kickers, we have the women of the town all acting like tarts - indeed at one point, they do a pied dans la main and start dancing the can-can. (Verona, XVIth Century - tight bodice, trailing gown and shift ....)
We have acrobats who come out only to show their bum in a G-string - and any relationship between a ballet dancer and an athlete or acrobat, is purely coincidental. The lads are so terrified, they can't even build a small pyramid.
As for the use of the music in the ensembles (save for the scene with the flag-bearing acrobats), it is appalling: There being no necessary relation between the trite, vulgar steps, and the music which is, to put it mildly, somewhat better composed, one is, yet again, treated to what I call the "machine-gun effect". This is what happens when dancers in heeled shoes lose it and come off the beat, in a clatter of machine-gun fire.
Nureyev's choreography for the girls in the corps de ballet is so perfunctory, he might as well have struck it all out. Romeo's dream with the maids, being the pits.
Those who think this is nasty and carping, might want to look at Lavrovski's 1941 version on tape, and compare, in particular, the ballroom scene and the reconciliation of the feuding clans.
If all Nureyev wanted to do was put up a pas de deux for the two heroes, well, do it, and get it over with.
In the so-called secondary roles, I must beg to differ with so many French colleagues, as I am not at all partial to the very extreme, naturalistic style of acting of M. Romoli (Tybalt) and Mlle. Talon (Lady Capulet). To this writer at least, the theatre is the realm of the free play of the imagination, where both the interpreters and the public explore the thoughts, feelings and ideas of individuals and nations who may be very remote to us all, expanding or so one hopes, our capacity to think and feel. The interpreter must vanish into his role, into that time, that place, that individual. What bothers me about both Talon and Romoli, is that they always play themselves. It is always the year 2005, and their tense harsh gestures, those of the cinema.
As I am 100% certain that no-one in France agree with me, I shall leave off.
Nor was one persuaded by Richard Wilk as Lord Capulet (this is a MAJOR role, and is not being dealt with as such here), Ghyslaine Reichert as the nurse, or Ludovic Heiden as the Friar; Sheakespeare gives the latter more lines than almost any other character, so I think we can safely say that the Friar's role is a major one ! As for Nathalié Riqué as Rosaline, silence is the better part of valour.
Forgot to mention what should not be forgot - M. Hoffalt, again as Paris. This is the young lad's third or fourth attempt at the role. He is nineteen years of age, but acts the part from the first to the last. Though still childishly, he has tried to bring every gesture and step to express the duality of Paris' nature, his fine bearing and manners stained by callow egotism, and even a shade of brutality. Very good work ! This is a promising lad.
One note of caution on the dancing, though: virtually no plié in the ensemble scene in Act III. The knee joint is a good fellow at 19, but somewhat less amenable at age 30. Plan ahead, M. Hoffalt, and plié NOW.
Fanny Fiat exquisite in the corps de ballet, and as Juliet's double.
In the Nineteenth Century, as we all know, war raged over whether the dance itself could express the drama (the Perrot camp), or whether the drama should be recounted in mime, while the dance remain solely "as an expression of joy" (the Bournonville camp).
At the end of the day, the Perrot camp won out.
This does not, however, mean that Perrot scrapped the mime. Far from it.
It so happens that there are emotions that cannot properly be expressed in pure dance, because to do so would become grotesque. That is the case of absolute transports of grief, passion or violence.
The scene in Nureyev's ballet where Juliet runs down to find Tybalt's body on the square (Nureyev invented that, it's not Sheakespeare), is so freakish, so outré, that the finest dancer in the world will look a right fool. The same on the road of Mantua - those salti mortali backwards that Nureyev has Romeo do into Benvolio's arms to express his grief at Juliet's death, and that revolting pas de deux between Romeo and Benvolio ! A simple mime scene would have said fifty times as much.