Switzerland Prokofiev: Romeo und Julia, Zurich Ballet, Zurich Junior Ballet, Philharmonia Zurich, Michail Jurowski (conductor) 4.1.2014 (JR)
Count Capulet: Manuel Renard
Countess Capulet: Eva Dewaele
Julia: Katja Wünsche
Tybalt: Cristian Alex Assis
Julia’s nurse: Viktorina Kapitonova
Count Montague: Daniel Goldsmith
Countess Montague: Mélanie Borel
Romeo: William Moore
Mercutio: Arman Grigoryan
Benvolio: Daniel Mulligan
Father Lorenzo: Filipe Portugal
Count Paris: Jan Casier
Choreography: Christian Spuck
Conductor: Michail Jurowski
Set: Christian Schmidt
Costumes: Emma Ryott
Dramaturgy: Michael Küster
Lighting: Reinhard Traub
Given its current popularity, one can hardly believe that Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” was initially rejected by the Bolshoi as virtually undanceable. Zurich Ballet’s revival (the much lauded première was in October 2012) is brilliantly choreographed by its relatively new Ballet Director Christian Spuck. Trained at the John Cranko School in Stuttgart, Spuck rose through the ranks to eventually become House Choreographer at the Stuttgart Ballet, back in 2001. He has now lured away from Stuttgart some of the rising new talent to join his newly configured ensemble in Zurich.
The curtain remained lowered for the “overture” of the famous discordant chords signifying the strife and tragedy to come. I was however reminded of the time, very many years ago, when I hushed some ladies chattering behind me at the Met during the overture of some opera, to which they retorted “What d’ya mean “shh”? It ain’t started yet”. Zurich’s ballet audience was sadly little better educated.
The opening tableau was an impressive freeze in which the Montagues and Capulets gradually came to life, divided in Shakespeare’s words by an “ancient grudge” and on stage by a line drawn in chalk.
Costumes were an interesting mix of Renaissance and contemporary, mainly in militaristic black. It was however impossible to differentiate between members of the two families; this was – it seems – deliberate signifying that the two families were of equal social standing. It did not however ease understanding of the story. Even if this is the world’s favourite love story, not everyone will know the story inside-out. Luckily Juliet was dressed from the outset in red, so one knew where to look for amorous glances from her suitors.
The rather uninteresting black set was also a mix of the old and the new, a cavernous galleried hall which served (only just) as ballroom, crypt and chapel, and less successfully as Juliet’s bedroom (the loving couple spend their first night together on what looks like a ping pong table). The famous balcony was the rear gallery accessed by a ladder on each side. On the plus side, the lighting was spectacular: a giant chandelier ascended and descended at various appropriate moments in the production (at one point right down onto the stage), vanishing only when the couple were taking turns at dying in the crypt, surrounded by a plethora of electric candles: very atmospheric.
Katya Wünsche portrayed Juliet most touchingly. Wünsche grew up and trained in Berlin. In 2000 she joined the corps de ballet in Stuttgart, working her way up to play the principal roles in many Cranko and Spuck choreographies. Zurich is indeed fortunate to have her join their ensemble: always graceful, landings always delicate, she was most touching in her pas de deux with her British Romeo, William Moore. Moore grew up and trained initially in Leamington Spa before joining the Royal Ballet in 1997. He arrived in Stuttgart in 2005 and he too has now become part of the Zurich Ballet. He was a perfect and more than proficient partner for Wünsche.
Arman Grigoryan charmed the audience with a jaunty portrayal of Mercutio and impressed with his sabre-balancing skills. Viktorina Kapitonova, as Juliet’s nurse, often stole the limelight by blending a deliberately flat-footed, almost duck-like waddle, in an unflattering skirt, with impressive acrobatic skills – her scene in which she attempts to deliver Juliet’s letter to Romeo but is ambushed by a group of Romeo’s friends is hilarious. Cristian Alex Assis was a malevolent and glowering Tybalt, Jan Casier as Count Paris a properly nerdish and bespectacled dandy of a suitor. The male members of the corps de ballet displayed admirable skills with their sabres in their numerous fight scenes even if their marching would have disgruntled a Sergeant Major.
Michail Jurowski (father of Vladimir) conducted with just the right degree of swagger, clearly an expert in this score. The orchestra, brass fluffs apart, played well but unfortunately looked shabby – why can’t they dress up as in opera performances?
This revival continues for three more performances in January and then returns in May/June for six more performances.