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Universal Ballet - Romeo & Juliet
Korean Cultural Foundation
Dr. and Mrs. Sun-Myung Moon, Founders
Julia H. Moon, General Director
Oleg Vinogradov, Artistic Director
Brian Yoo, Asst. General Director
Evgeny Neff, Ballet Master
Natalia Spitsyna, Julia Lee, Albert Mirzoyan, Ballet Mistresses
Pavel Bubelnikov, Conductor
Simon Pastukh, Set Designer
Galina Soloveiva, Costume Designer
Kevin McAnarney, KPM Associates, Press
New York State Theater, Lincoln Center
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
July 31, 2004
Romeo & Juliet (1965, Vinogradov version): Music by Sergei Prokofiev, Choreography by Oleg Vinogradov, Performed by Yena Kang as Juliet, Jae-Won Hwang as Romeo, Rabul Seo as Tybalt, Jae-Yong Ohm as Paris, Semyon Chudin as Mercutio, Ioana Vasilescu as Lady Capulet, Nikolai Levitski as Lord Capulet, Hyun-Woo Kim as Lord Montague, Jun-Kyu Lee as Mayor of Verona, Igor Soloviev as Friar Laurence, Sung-Ah Lee as Death, Alevtina Rudina and Sun-Soo Kim as Tarantella Soloists, Victoria Stocki as Columbine, Semyon Chudin as Harlequin, Dzmitry Karpezin as Leandre, Hyun-Woo Kim as Cassandre, and Alevtina Rudina as Life.
Universal Ballet was founded in 1984, and Oleg Vinogradov, former Director of the Kirov Ballet, is Artistic Director, with Julia Moon as General Director. Principal dancers in the Company are guest artists in ballet companies around the globe. Universal Ballet has toured internationally and was last seen in NY in 2001 at Lincoln Center. You can read a recent interview with Julia Moon and another review of this production. This version of Romeo & Juliet includes more dancing than the 1940 version, staged by Leonid Lavrosky and Sergei Radlov, (or later versions by John Cranko and Kenneth MacMillan). Vinogradov conducted historical research to detail the fashions, costumes, and various images of Romeo & Juliet's Italy. (Program Notes).
Having seen numerous productions of Romeo & Juliet with American Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet, and other companies, I was quite taken by surprise at the lavish visual and emotional qualities of this sumptuous event. With an expansive and elaborate set that included multi-level rounded doors, a balcony/bridge on high, stars and moon as bright as the sun, silver confetti, red streamers, a stained glass cathedral window, a stage within a stage for a surreal tarantella, and multiple candles for a modern, "give peace a chance" epilogue, Universal Ballet presented a sophisticated, sensual, soulful interpretation of a well-known Shakespearean tale.
In this exquisite and unique production, Vinogradov eliminated just the very characters that I've always felt were unnecessary, and even distracting, to the tragic ambiance, namely the bumbling nurse, the harlots that try to seduce Romeo and his friends, and the final visit of Paris to the crypt that results in his immediate death at Romeo's hands. And, he adds new characters, called Death, Life, and the characters in the Tarantella and play within a play.
In addition, Vinogradov uses a psychological approach that is gut wrenching and genuine to the literature. He portrays Lord Capulet as an abusive father who brutally beats his daughter with a rope and Juliet as a grieving sister for Tybalt, stabbed by Romeo, in revenge for Tybalt's murder of his friend, Mercutio. He has Juliet rejecting Romeo's advances in their one and only bedroom scene. In other productions, the psychology of Juliet's mourning of Tybalt is not an essential element, and some program notes refer to Tybalt as Juliet's cousin. In other productions, the bedroom awakening, with Romeo departing in passion, now seems ill conceived, considering the timing of the battle and Tybalt's death. Moreover, Friar Laurence dynamically dances in this ballet, rather than just creating mime scenarios of marital ceremony and sleeping potion directions.
Yena Kang, as Juliet, was all perfection and youthful ardor. Her solos were mature and riveting, as she fell in love, exuded conflict, and then seemed to die at the realization of the depth of Romeo's devotion, as well as in deliberate escape from her tortured life. The scene on high, dancing on a bridge to stars and moonlight, with dark, shadowy trees, was literally breathtaking. Jae-Won Hwang, as Romeo, had the bravura dancing skills of a premier danseur, with mid-air height, partnered lifts and walks (Juliet upside down on his shoulders), and with lightning spins and leaps. As a couple, these two dancers presented such maturity of spirit that I could not take my gaze from the stage for one moment.
Semyon Chudin, as Mercutio, was devoid of the campiness that often accompanies his death. Instead there was pathos, power, and poise. Jae-Yong Ohm was less wimpy than the usual Paris, more troubled in rejection, and more persistent and anguished. This Paris seemed to be actively attracted to Juliet and danced as a figure of sorrow and jealousy. Rabul Seo, as Tybalt, in a performance extraordinaire, seethed in evil intentions and seemed to emulate his father's abusive attitude. As a dancer, Seo was virtuosic, a viper en air, another character of death. This is a dancer to watch, as were Kang and Hwang.
Sung-Ah Lee, as Death, an eery skeleton, hid and darted around the stage, occasionally in contrast to Rudina's dance of Life, like a two-person Greek chorus, suggesting and shadowing the tragedies that unfold. In fact, the depth of passion, remorse, loss, and revenge was so deep and dark in this production, that there could be ties drawn to choreographed mythology in the style of Martha Graham. Nikolai Levitski and Hyun-Woo Kim, as the warring Lords, along with Jun-Kyu Lee as Mayor of Verona, used their massive swords with incredible and frightening strength. Igor Soloviev, as Friar Laurence, took advantage of his extended onstage presence in a hazy cathedral with mesmerizing movement.
The various Carnival dancers were reminiscent of Commedia dell'arte, with puppet-like mime and sensational tarantellas, worthy of revisiting as a short ballet, in another milieu. I found the contemporary Epilogue, with 12 couples in modern casualness, entering from the aisles, lighting candles from the doomed couple's crypt, and again departing through the aisles, very timely to the current social context and the kernel of a panel discussion, relating to the wastefulness of youthful death to remedy the political mistakes of their elders, in other words, an aesthetic statement on war.
I also noticed a fusion of East and West in Universal Ballet's production, with martial arts choreography in the male fencing and war-like confrontations. Leg kicks and leg lifts were almost distilled from documentaries of historical and modern-day armies of the East and West. The tarantella was very West, and the love scene on the moonlit bridge was very East. The dramatic passion of the couple was very West, and the dramatic passion of the battles was very East. The garden, love scene pas de deux was very West, and the candle-lit, death scene solos were very East. The famed, full company dance of the Capulets contained visual elements of West and East, with multi-layered headpieces and angular head motions. This stylistic fusion was woven throughout the drama, choreography, sets, and costumes into an effective and ethereal texture.
Julia Moon's Universal Ballet should return to New York and other American cities on a more frequent schedule. There is much in this Company that could serve as a model for the great ballet companies of the world. The psychological sophistication of the drama, the historical enhancement and detailed artistry of the costumes and sets, and the daring originality of the choreography and characterizations bring Julia Moon's and Oleg Vinogradov's Romeo & Juliet to the attention of balletomanes and ballet neophytes around the globe. I look forward to seeing another Universal Ballet production at the earliest possible opportunity. Kudos to Julia Moon, kudos to Oleg Vinogradov, and kudos to Ms. Kang, Mr. Hwang, and Mr. Seo.