The big sleeper of the Kirov Ballet season was the revival of Leonid Lavrovsky's "Romeo and Juliet," created in 1940.
Common wisdom had it that Lavrovsky's remarkable fusion of mime and dancing would look old-fashioned, that this Socialist Realist epic with decadent aristocrats pitted against "the people" could no longer be taken seriously.
Surprisingly, this once-controversial treatment of Prokofiev's score (seen in New York with the Bolshoi in 1959) was a superb revelation all over again. Here was dramatic realism made marvelously bold and conveyed through a choreographic style totally different from that seen in the West.
In dance-dramas like Antony Tudor's, body language symbolizes psychological truths. (A fall might telegraph an emotional collapse.) In this "Romeo and Juliet," a gesture communicates its meaning directly. Yet such movement is never naturalistic but is incorporated into a gestural flow.
The Juliet of Galina Ulanova, with her seamless line, introduced this sculptural and supple silhouette to the West and left hundreds of viewers deeply moved.
The Kirov's current leads looked more academic in their dancing, although the Bolshoi-trained Nina Ananiashvili and Andris Liepa, who were guest stars this season at the Metropolitan Opera House, showed genuine passion.
Altynai Asylmuratova and Konstantin Zaklinsky were too sophisticated. Alexander Gulyayev partnered two Juliets: the lyrical Zhanna Ayupova and the more glittering Larissa Lezhnina. All three tended to be presentational in manner, drawing attention to themselves as dancers, not characters.
While this "Romeo and Juliet," restaged by Oleg Vinogradov, the company's artistic director, focuses on Juliet, there is another main character: the people.
Lavrovsky's sure sense of dramatic structure is felt in the first scene, as he builds the action slowly from a spare beginning to an action-filled panorama. Much of the ballet's stunning pictorial impact comes from the sets, which are based on Pyotr Williams' originals. These do not use the checkerboard floor of the Bolshoi staging, and the curtain opens on a classical landscape.
There is no Rosaline, but Romeo, because he enters sleepily, may have been courting. It is morning, and he touches a Bacchus-like statue for luck. The town square begins to stir with activity.
Three wenches plunge into a folk dance with Capulet men, who bar the path of two Montagues. Brilliantly, economically, this provocation sets the scene for the clan strife that explodes into animated dueling.
The interior scenes are danced against the simulated richness of Renaissance frescoes and tapestries. Juliet's playfulness with an ambling nurse is cut short momentarily by her haughty mother, penetratingly portrayed by Nina Mikhailova, who orders her daughter to meet Paris.
As much as Lavrovsky meant to bring out the aristocracy's decadence, the Kirov currently exaggerates some telling scenes.
En route to the Capulet ball, a husband storms out after finding his wife in the arms of another man. A vain Paris preens before a mirror held by a page and ignores a handkerchief dropped by an admirer. The page picks it up and blows a kiss.
Later, in Act II, three women in men's clothing, all part of traditional Renaissance fun, come reeling in with Tybalt and his friends and kick a fruit seller.
The ballroom scene is resplendent. In a huge fresco, Europa is seen sitting astride her bull while below the Capulet banquet is in full swing amid goblets, tables and dazzling candelabra.
Tybalt stands atop one of the tables, which are cleared for the now-legendary dance of the cushions. The Capulets advance with pillows, kneel on them and grab their partners in a voracious embrace.
The classical idiom, reserved until now for Juliet in her first scene, is expanded in her duet with Paris and later in her first encounter with Romeo. The image that Miss Ulanova made famous and which recurs in the lovers' other duets is seen here for the first time: Romeo lifts Juliet so that she is kneeling on his chest and looking down lovingly at his face.
The Soviet dance historian Yuri Slonimsky saw Lavrovsky's theme as "the unequal struggle waged by the children of tomorrow against the injustice of yesterday." Lavrovsky's stroke of genius consisted of his never losing sight of the love story while placing in it an interpretive social context.
We might not agree with that context, but he gave the death of Romeo and Juliet a dimension that most Western versions omit. He reconciled the clans at the end and thus remained true to