Opening Wide: The Bolshoi’s New, More Poetic ‘Romeo and Juliet’


Mr. Grigorovich is the figure most closely identified with the Bolshoi, but Mr. Ratmansky is no stranger here, having served as the ballet company’s artistic director from 2004 to 2008. The day-to-day management of personalities and factions was a struggle — “a war, almost,” he has said — and, when he was given the opportunity to become artist in residence at American Ballet Theater in New York, he left, seemingly without regret.

“At first it was so weird to be back,” Mr. Ratmansky said on a rainy November afternoon, as he rushed through the Bolshoi’s labyrinthine corridors, “but since then, I’ve just been with the dancers, working.”


Ms. Krysanova and Mr. Lantratov in the Bolshoi premiere of Mr. Ratmansky’s production in November. Credit Damir Yusupov/Bolshoi Theater

In the studio with Mr. Ratmansky, the dancers appeared eager to try a different approach to their characters and to master his tricky, fast-moving phrases. “He is a maximalist!” Makhar Vaziev, the Bolshoi’s current director, said. “For one movement, he can give 10 recommendations.” Mr. Ratmansky pushed the dancers to be swifter, more detailed, more physical.

“Don’t wait for the music, just go” Mr. Ratmansky instructed Ekaterina Krysanova, a highly dramatic ballerina who, along with the limpid Vladislav Lantratov, danced on opening night. (They will also play the leads in the live broadcast.) Mr. Ratmansky wanted them to be almost ahead of the music, to give an impression of spontaneity and freshness.

Despite his demands, he was soft-spoken, even formal, an approach that had not served him well when he was director, the critic Ms. Gouchmazova recalled. Back then, “he was so tactful in rehearsals that everybody decided he wasn’t strong enough to be at the top.” But now, as a visiting choreographer, the calm, focused atmosphere seems to suit everyone just fine. The company is a different place than it was 10 years ago.

“All these people, either I hired them, or they were in the corps when I was director,” Mr. Ratmansky said. “I gave them their first roles, and we worked together many times. So now there is no resistance, nothing negative.


Ms. Krysanova as Juliet. Credit Damir Yusupov/Bolshoi Theater

Despite his history with the Bolshoi, Mr. Ratmanksy had been away for seven years. It was Mr. Vaziev, hired two years after the acid attack, who brought Mr. Ratmansky back into the fold, commissioning him to stage his “Romeo and Juliet” for the company. The two have a long history — in the late 1990s, when Mr. Vaziev was the director of the Mariinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg, he was one of the first to commission a large work from Mr. Ratmansky.

Mr. Vaziev has made no secret of his desire to freshen up the repertory. Some in Russia see this new “Romeo” as the first salvo in a larger strategy of phasing out Mr. Grigorovich’s ballets.

“We should not forget in which time period he worked in this theater,” Mr. Vaziev said of Mr. Grigorovich. “It was difficult, the political ideology was very dominant. As to his work as a choreographer, some I like very much, some less, which is normal. He did what he could.”

As for Mr. Ratmansky, he may be on the cusp of a comeback at the Bolshoi, where some of his older ballets, like “The Bright Stream,” are still popular. “Romeo and Juliet” was well received in November, with the leading Moscow critic, Tatyana Kuznetsova, describing the production in the daily Kommersant as “strikingly musical and sensitive to psychological details.”

The Bolshoi is, after all, the place that put him on the international map as a choreographer. “I would dream to do something with him every year,” Mr. Vaziev said (and not for the first time). For now, he and Mr. Ratmansky are in talks about a possible premiere for the fall of 2019. Russia calls.

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