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Prokofiev: Romeo & Juliet [DVD] 
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Shakespeare's tale of doomed love is re-told in dance in this production by the late Rudolf Nureyev, with music by Sergei Prokofiev.
The combination of Prokofiev's masterful score with Nureyev's choreography for the ballet company of the Paris Opera could hardly make this Romeo and Juliet anything but a success. However, as it's Nureyev, God is in the detail, and while the sheer exuberance of Manuel Legris and Monique Loudieres in the leading roles is undeniable, it's the little things that count, such as Romeo's shyness as he shuffles from one foot to another in the presence of the object of his affections (it's one thing to do dying swans and amorous raptures, but not everyone can effectively choreograph a fidget). The production is visually stunning, although there's an am-dram overstatedness to the glary lighting thatcan take one aback somewhat. What's very good indeed, however, is the presence of surround and stereo audio options and a multi-angle option, which are all too often omitted altogether from dance DVDs. The booklet notes are detailed but unfussy.--Roger ThomasSee all Product description
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I am not familiar with the original version but this Nureyev creation is remarkable incorporating acting and characterisation within the ballet, all the main characters seem real believable people.
There is a fascinating contrast between the stark white geometric lines of the Opera Bastille auditorium and the sumptuous stage set of towering buildings surrounding the square, buildings resplendent with intricate baroque? ornamentation. The costumes are equally gorgeous.
The acoustics are excellent and every detail of Prokofiev's wonderful score is transparently projected, and well played by Orchestre de L'opera Paris under Vello Pahn.
Although recorded at a live performance in 1995 (presented in 16:9 widescreen format) the video quality is extremely good, obviously not true HD but it does not disappoint.
This is one of those occasions when everything succeeds creating a marvellous whole, destined to become one of my all time favourite ballet performances.
Nureyev who, if I recall correctly, was the first to dance Macmillan's Romeo in the 1960s, offers us here his own concept of the work (NOTE: his participation here is only as a choreographer and producer. He did not dance this version and by the time this particular performance was filmed, he had passed on.)
Comparisons with the Macmillan version are inevitable. On the plus side for Nureyev, there is an attempt to follow more closely Shakespeare's plot, which explains both how Romeo hears of Juliet's death and why he is not warned of what has actually taken place. (In Macmillan, the exiled Romeo appears suddenly and unexpectedly in the tomb.) The scene with the Friar's murder was hurried and seemed tacked-on, whereas the scene in which Benvolio informs Romeo of Juliet's death was beautifully conceived and executed (Romeo dreams of Juliet embracing him and wakes up in his friend's arms instead.) All in all, though, -despite the excellent dancing opportunities afforded,- I found the choreography not as emotionally charged as Macmillan's.
Another minus for me were Nureyev's attempts at symbolic gestures. The Priest that marries the couple, for example, holds a bouquet of flowers in one hand and a human skull in the other! (How subtle is this?) In another scene, Romeo offers money to a young beggar, who (inexplicably) drops dead almost as soon as he touches his fingers.
There are also some "realistic" touches, which do not blend very well with the atmosphere of the ballet. Tybald kisses Romeo on the lips, to show that he considers him a sissy for not fighting with him. In another scene, the young men try to provoke their enemies by performing obscene gestures. This seemed to me like a very easy way to express hostility.
Sets are impressive and costumes are quite elegant, but I think that Georgiades's sets for the Macmillan production had more character.
The dancers are exceptional. Manuel Legris, in particular, is one of the best Romeos I have ever seen.
The cinematography is quite good, with the exception of two short close-ups of the "dead" Juliet in the last scene, where we can see she's obviously breathing. It's not a big thing, but it does momentarily spoil the illusion.
In short, if you only want one version of this ballet for you collection, go for the Macmillan (either the wonderful '60s film with Nureyev and Fonteyn, or one of the performances with Ferri from the '80s and '90s.) But if you want to own an alternative version of the work, as well, this will not disappoint you. Even if you have reservations about Nureyev's concept, the quality of the dancing is such that it fully justifies the purchase.
The choreography and dancing are superb, and I found myself longing to be in the theatre experiencing this for myself. I suppose this feeling is inevitable when watching one of the 'live arts' in recorded format. But my frustration was increased by some incredibly insensitive editing.
Worst of all were the totally unnecessary cuts to close-ups of scenery, presumably to cover awkwardly long scene changes. Personally I would rather look at the curtain, or an empty stage, with possibly a glance at the orchestra; this, after all, is what you would do if you were in the theatre. But to have one's vision restricted to a dark doorway or gargoyle, while the music (and the ballet) are clearly continuing is deeply frustrating and terribly clumsy. The producers should have decided instead to make it as close to the live experience as possible, including pauses and scene changes if necessary.
And having spent the whole production sensibly avoiding close-ups, why send the camera zooming in 'dead' bodies throughout the final scenes? We all know they are actually rather exhausted dancers and therefore will be breathing! It seems utterly pointless to shatter the suspension of disbelief in this way. After all, what is there to move you in 'Romeo & Juliet' if you don't believe in a part of your emotional being that they are dead at the end?
I'm afraid these clanking faults ruined the experience for me. Although I am glad to have seen this marvellous production (including several astonishing lead performances and some sublime choreography), I would not choose to watch it again in this format.
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