The Imperial Russian Ballet's production of Romeo and Juliet at Aotea Centre

By Reviewed by Bernadette Rae

It begins well. During the final moments of the overture the curtain rises on a tableau of duelling Montagues and Capulets, which melts away to fleetingly reveal the small, pale figures of Romeo and Juliet.

It is a striking mood-setter.

But the rest of the hour-long first act is a drawn-out and old-fashioned rendition of the familiar story with an over-abundance of jolly crowd scenes and hammed-up swordfighting.

The curious choreography of Leonid Lavrovsky focuses on incredibly rapid foot-work, very Russian, very folksy and very ably executed by the neat and nimble cast, but goes light on any great sense of impending dark disaster.

Maids and menservants cavort; Juliet, a wispy adolescent, taunts her nanny; and later the entire Capulet clan strut their stuff at a ball.

But even Prokofiev's fabulously dramatic Capulet theme is danced over-friskily, missing the drama completely.

Mercutio's high-energy and comic solo, performed by a Puckishly appealing Vladimir Shmygelskyy, is a welcome highlight.

But sadly there is little chemistry between the lovestruck Romeo and Juliet. Lubov Sergienko and Kiril Radev are beautiful young dancers, but the fusty traditional style of this production remains suffocatingly stiff and stagey.

Act II is only half as long and has a lot more story to tell: Romeo and Juliet declare their troth to Friar Lorenzo, there is another outburst of fighting in the square and Mercutio dies quite grippingly, followed by Tybalt as Romeo takes revenge.

Mrs Capulet (Anna Pashkova) makes an overwrought spectacle of herself in her grief, outdone only by the descent of an incomprehensible backdrop of a Christlike figure with a big red heart, and the two dead youths are upended on their funeral carts.

The drama of the third act - the failed plot, the ultimate tragedy - is a hard one to get wrong. But Romeo nearly loses it in the bedroom scene, where his passionate kisses look more like headbutts, although the scene is saved by Sergienko's Juliet, finally convincing in her grief, confusion and despair, and in the end we are swept away in the power of the story.

But the whole experience is far less than it could be. Talented young dancers are hog-tied by a tradition badly in need of a breath of fresh air.

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