February 6, 2007


From the very first strains of Prokofiev's atmospherically-charged score, this Moscow City Ballet production declares for tragedy: the opening tableau foreshadows the deaths, not just of Romeo and Juliet but of Mercutio and Tybalt too - all cut down in the fullness of youth because their elders - two old men, staggering to fight with over-large swords - couldn"t see beyond clannish feuding and family "honour".

It's a broodingly dramatic prologue to a vivid staging recently choreographed by the company's artistic director, Victor Smirnov-Golovanov, in celebration of his own 70th birthday - it is, in fact, a gift to his dancers, especially the men. If Swan Lake - seen earlier in the week - allowed his ballerinas to shine, this Romeo and Juliet allows the lads to flex impressive muscle. Talgat Kozhabayev, a musing, almost melancholy Prince in Swan Lake, now swaggers on in red-black-and-gold splendour as a thunder-browed Tybalt with a short fuse and technique that hollers "prowess" with every jump. Gennadiy Batalov's nimble, roguish Mercutio heads up the roister-doister Montague brigade - the choreography for this quartet of chums brims over with cheeky energy, has a wonderful larky camaraderie that makes Mercutio's death seem such a waste. What of Romeo? Well, no wonder Natalia Padalko's bright, joyful Juliet is instantly smitten. He has a kind of laid-back class that switches, when they come together, into molten ardour. Their first duet is a succession of high-flying lifts interspersed with hungry snogging that's touchingly teenage.

Padalko's transition into courageous womanhood is powerfully done - though, overall, Act III does pile on the protracted angst before the poignant end. But gosh, with costumes as engagingly vivid as a fifties Technicolor musical and some fast-paced, exuberant dancing, swashbuckling fights and spookily-veiled harbingers of doom, this Romeo and Juliet was certainly well worth catching.