- The Washington Times - Friday, January 19, 2007

The Kirov Ballet’s opening-night performance of its handsome “Romeo and Juliet” on Tuesday at the Kennedy Center was a triumph, thanks to the clarity and freshness of its staging and, especially, the luminous performance of Evgenya Obraztsova as Juliet.

This beautiful ballerina seems born to dance the part, with her heart-shaped face, astonishingly pliant body, floating arms and quicksilver feet. Going beyond technique, she completely inhabits the role; her remarkable gifts serve to show us her growth from a flighty young girl to a woman caught up in a passionate love. Through her expressive body she conveys her growth; her character deepens as she defies convention, eventually giving her life to be with the man she loves.

She does all this through beautiful, artless dancing and with a partner, Andrian Fadeyev, who matches her ardor with his own brilliant performance and the strong support he brings to the demanding partnering.

The next evening the Kirov showed its strength in depth with another Juliet, Olesya Novikova, with Igor Kolb as her Romeo. Miss Novikova was kittenish as the young Juliet and danced with the freedom and thrilling, expansive arms that are a Kirov trademark. Her character did not evolve much during the evening, emphasizing Juliet’s vulnerability. During their pas de deux, the two sometimes showed the strain of their difficult lifts.

In Leonid Lavrovsky’s version of the ballet, created for the Kirov in 1940, the two doomed lovers are set against a backdrop of Renaissance Italy, accompanied by Sergey Prokofiev’s well-known score. That’s true of multiple versions of the ballet that were choreographed later, including one by Kenneth MacMillan, danced here frequently by American Ballet Theatre.

Even with the same basic scenario and the same music, the two ballets are worlds apart, rather surprising because the melodramatic Prokofiev score is so explicit in its telling of the story.

The Kirov version is lighter, airier. Though both productions are lavishly, handsomely decorated, the Kirov version, sumptuous though it is, lets in more daylight and shows us a few people gathered in its public squares rather than a mob scene. There is something aristocratically restrained about it.

In the Kirov production, the crowd scenes show us inviting Italian vistas, with trees and hills; Mr. MacMillan gives us a crowd peopled with harlots, beggars and the maimed.

Mr. MacMillan places the lovers’ last scene in a foreboding underground grotto, while Mr. Lavrovsky’s death scene takes place at night in an open cemetery surrounded by greenery and a star-filled sky.

On the other hand, the Lavrovsky version is also blander. The two lovers are fully developed, and Juliet’s nurse is engagingly drawn (as played here by Natalya Sveshnikova), but the other characters — Mercutio and Tybalt for instance — lack interesting choreography and make scant impact.

Still, the Kirov “Romeo and Juliet” is a fascinating production with extraordinarily handsome scenes between the two lovers and an elegant panoply of Renaissance life as its background.

We are lucky to have these yearly visits and the chance to become better acquainted with the Kirov’s exquisite, finespun style. However, the company’s tremendous resource — its ranks of fine dancers — means it can and does arrive with a markedly different group each year. Though it introduces us to new talent, it deprives us of the pleasure of getting to know the dancers in depth and see them develop over time. Let’s hope that director Makhar Vaziev brings Miss Obraztsova and Mr. Fadeyev back next time.

The two will dance at this afternoon’s performance — catch it if you can. Maya Dumchenko and Anton Korsakov dance the lovers tonight, and Miss Obraztsova performs tomorrow afternoon with Mr. Kolb.

***1/2

WHAT: Kirov Ballet in “Romeo and Juliet”

WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House

WHEN: Today at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m., tomorrow at 1:30

TICKETS: $29 to $99

PHONE: 202/467-4600

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