Romeo & Juliet

Romeo & Juliet

National Ballet Theatre of Odessa, Ukraine

The National Ballet Theatre of Odessa will present Romeo and Juliet on Sunday, Jan. 5, at the Duke Energy Center for the Arts-Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. The production will begin at 3 p.m. in the afternoon. This rendition will give the audience an opportunity to experience the timeless, passionate romance when 55 talented ballet stars from The National Ballet Theatre of Odessa, Ukraine, perform their sought-after production.

This full-length ballet is presented in two acts and conveys the elevated emotional themes originally created by William Shakespeare through beautifully executed choreography by Michael Lavrovsky. Tickets are available online and at The Mahaffey box office. The Duke Energy Center for the Arts-The Mahaffey Theater is located at 400 1st St. S in St. Petersburg.

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More about the Production and History of Romeo & Juliet:

The ballet Romeo and Juliet might never have been. In 1934 Prokofiev discussed the possibility of staging The Gambler and The Fiery Angel in Leningrad. At the time, Andrian Piotrovsky (the director of the Leningrad studios and a consultant for the GATOB) forwarded the idea of a new opera and, among other plots, he suggested Shakespeare’s tragedy. The idea for Romeo as a ballet finally took shape in May 1935.

Romeo & Juliet 3

The second “godfather” of this production was Sergei Radlov. A co-writer of the scene plan, he proposed radical re-workings of Shakespeare, the most fantastical of which involved a happy ending. In the summer of 1935 the score was completed. During this time the GATOB production fell through and the idea was taken up by the Bolshoi Theatre. A stormy time began for the lovers of Verona: the failure of the first public performance (4 October 1935), the reworking of the finale in line with Shakespeare, the performance of two symphony suites from the ballet (1936-1937 season), a new contract with the GATOB (then known as the Kirov Theatre) and only on 11 January 1938 did the premiere of Romeo take place.

Apropos, the premiere of Romeo took place in the Czech city of Brno – encyclopaedias list this as the world premiere. It is known that this was a one-act ballet which featured only selected excerpts (possibly the music of the two suites). It was in Leningrad that the score was heard in its entirety for the first time.

Here the production was entrusted to Leonid Lavrovsky. The choreographer made a meticulous study of Veronese archives, medieval novels and descriptions of early dances. For his principal expressive means he chose dramatically vivid pantomime dance. Swearing allegiance to the spirit of Shakespeare, Lavrovsky demanded the removal of all radical elements from the libretto in addition to expanding several parts and augmenting the orchestration. Prokofiev resisted the changes even after the premiere.

The production was designed by Pyotr Williams, one of the finest theatre designers of the age. Williams’ Italy arbitrarily combined heterogeneous elements of the Renaissance: on the squares of Verona there was the cupola of Santa Maria del Fiore and in the costume sketches one could find traces of portraits by Botticelli and Cranach the Elder. Verona literally moved to the expanses of Leningrad: many columnists noted the restrained and not remotely southern flavour of the production.

The first cast was to be legendary – first and foremost the legendary Galina Ulanova. Ulanova’s arabesque as Juliet became a symbol of understatement in an era of silence and subtext, and when she ran across the stage it was a desperate flight for freedom.

Lavrovsky and Williams’ ballet is one of the finest creations in Soviet ballet and a rare case for Prokofiev’s works where the first version proved canonical. In 1946 the production was staged at the Bolshoi Theatre with Ulanova as Juliet. In 1956 it created a furore in London during a tour by the Moscow company and became a starting point for international 20th century versions – by Ashton, MacMillan, Nureyev and Neumeier. In 2012 it was released on DVD. To this day it has packed auditoriums, and it is hard to believe that the music of Romeo was once considered “anti-ballet” and that on the eve of the premiere they were expecting a failure.