Monday, July 14, 2008

Mark Morris' "Romeo and Juliet"

1st\NW Quadrant: The Approval Matrix

by SHAUN MULLEN\Kiko's House

As oft danced as Serge Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet has been over the last 70 years, the great Soviet composer’s original score and all of the original accompanying dances have never been performed. Yes, never, and therein lies a tale.

That changed over Independence Day weekend with the world premiere of Romeo & Juliet: On Motifs of Shakespeare at Bard SummerScape danced by the Mark Morris Dance Group with the American Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Leon Botstein.

The production is based on Prokofiev’s original score, which was composed in 1935, and restores the original story line that he conceived with dramatist Sergei Radlov, 20 minutes of never-performed music, as well as six dance numbers choreographed by Leonid Lavrovsky of the Kirov Ballet but also never performed.


Don’t get excited. The 20 extra minutes of this “Romeo” boil down to some 8 minutes of entirely new but eminently cuttable music for supporting characters and about 12 minutes of nonradical variations on familiar “Romeo” material. Elsewhere the main differences have to do with cuts, reorderings and orchestral rearrangements.

These show us the satiric, sarcastic face Prokofiev so often wore. Whereas Shakespeare understands even his most brutal or silly characters from within, Prokofiev wants several of them to remain two-dimensional buffoons (the Nurse) or creeps (Tybalt). And so this “Romeo” becomes more like his “Cinderella”: young love wins magically, redeeming the unspoiled hero and heroine from the composer’s cynical view of the harsh realities of the world around them. But if you feel (as I do) that Prokofiev seriously misinterprets Shakespeare’s characters — the prime characteristic of the play’s hero and heroine is their highly educated cleverness, their love of poetic intricacy and paradox, never apparent here — this version won’t change your view.

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