Rudolf Nureyev’s version of Romeo and Juliet – restaged by English National Ballet, the company for which it was first created in 1977 – reads like a cross between Shakespeare and Roger Corman. It’s an odd mix, but an interesting one. Take the prologue, for example. It’s generally left out in ballet stagings, but Nureyev, sticking to the playtext, includes it to foreshadow the themes of fate and misfortune, and renders it in overwrought symbols: masked goblin dice-players, a baleful funeral procession that makes you think not just of death, but of the Black Death.
Whereas Zoë Anderson in The Independent generally gives a thumbs down:
Nureyev’s overcrammed pudding of a ballet is all incident, without dramatic weight or point, but the dancers perform tirelessly.
But it is Neil Norman, the senior of these critics, who is the most positive. Writing for The Daily Express:
There can be no more appropriate way to celebrate the 60th anniversary of ENB than by mounting Rudolf Nureyev’s version of Romeo & Juliet. One of the greatest treasures in the ENB vaults, it has been polished to a dazzling shine.
I was lucky enough to see Nureyev dance in his own production in the Seventies and two of his cast, Patricia Ruanne and Frederic Jahn (Juliet and Tybalt), oversee the current incarnation, applying their intimate knowledge of Nureyev’s choreography and theatricality.
Norman really understands what Nureyev was after:
The stage is filled with flirtation, romance and raging hormones that seem to affect everyone. In the opening fight scene, close to a brawl in a discotheque, even the girls get a chance to put the boot in and while Juliet dances with her girlfriends her nurse is romping with her lover.
And Nureyev knows the value of a stage kiss. When Muntagirov and Klimentova kiss it looks like they really mean it. Perhaps they do.