"Sometimes, first impressions are misleading. When I saw Fonteyn and Nureyev in Swan Lake, I was appalled by the weird ending, Nureyev's interjected solos, the reshuffling of Tchaikovsky's score, and the radical reworking of the Petipa/Ivanov choreography. I didn't see any of the famed Fonteyn/Nureyev chemistry. But don't make the same mistake I did. Avoid the muddled Swan Lake, and order their Romeo and Juliet today! It's Kenneth MacMillan's production, and the romantic score by Prokofiev is of course beautiful. The corps, unlike the underreheased, cramped Swan Lake corps, have it together. The costumes are lovely. Most of all, you finally see the Fonteyn/Nureyev magic. Fonteyn is much more suited to Juliet than Odette/Odile, which requires almost superhuman athleticism from the ballerina. As Juliet, Fonteyn's grace and charm more than make up for the fact that at age 46, her leaps aren't as high and her turns aren't the fastest. Except for a few unflattering closeups, she still exudes a remarkable girlishness and wide-eyed innocence. Nureyev is also excellent -- unlike Fonteyn, he was at his peak and his turns and leaps are a sight to behold. He got a late start in ballet (17!) and was often criticized for his "unfinished technique" and sometimes in the film you can see why. For one, he can't seem to control his pirouettes very well -- he can start them, spin, but can't neatly end them turned out in 4th position (a la Baryshnikov). Rudolf sometimes overrotates and "cheats" by quickly putting down his free leg. Nevertheless, the warmth and ardency he exudes more than compensate for technical defects. But when Margot and Rudi dance together, they are greater than the sum of their parts. For those used to the idealized aloofness of classical ballet, you will be stunned by the intimacy and physicality of Fonteyn and Nureyev. When Nureyev recalled that the two danced with "one body, one soul" it wasnt an exaggeration. It seems like we're peeping in on a private relationship, not a performance. One particularly beautiful moment is when Fonteyn and Nureyev at the very beginning of the balcony scene run around onstage and bump into each other. Their hands touch, and both shake visibly, as if jolted by electricity. Later on, Nureyev lightly brushes his face in Fonteyn's nightgown. I dare say it's hotter than any porn film. The *only* drawback is the visual quality of the film. There doesnt seem to have been any remastering, and a lot of the film has a grainy look. "
The Ballet That Spoiled All Other Ballets For Me
Theodore G. Mihran | Schenectady, NY USA | 04/30/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Tonight I watched Romeo and Juliet again, this time with two of my granddaughters. I have seen it with my parents, with my wife and three children, and now with my grandchildren. I attended the movie in Washington, in Boston, and in Albany, NY many years ago. This version has become part of my life, as have its stars, Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn. Why I have not reviewed it before, I do not know.
This Royal Ballet version of Romeo and Juliet is so fine, so spectacular, so moving, and so incrediblly beautiful that in my opinion there is no other ballet that can compare with it. First there is the poignantly tragic love story of Shakespeare. Add to it the hauntingly expressive, classic-yet-modern music of Prokofiev. Stir in Kenneth MacMillan's sensitive and exuberant choreography. And as the supreme touch, have it danced by the most exhilarating male dancer who every performed, in partnership with the most delicate and vulnerable ballernina of the past century. Here you have the masterpiece of all masterpieces. A ballet that puts other ballets to shame with their weak plots and lack of emotional substance.
My two favorite scenes are the balcony scene, and the scene where Romeo dances with a lifeless Juliet. The first exudes love and passion, as Nureyev and Fonteyn are transported by their new-found love to a height beyond all measure. In the second, your heart freezes and you strain to hold back tears as Romeo tries to coax the life back into Juliet by dancing with her limp but still graceful form. There are no touchingly valid moments such as these in any other ballet I have seen.
The superb costumes are worthy of a Zefferelli production, although this is not one, of course. The scenery is adequate but not impressive. But most important, all the dancers communicate a vitality that is convincing and contagious. The swordplay is amazing in its complexity and realism. Tybolt's death and his wife's grief are overdone with just the right touch of modernity.
But mainly, Nureyev and Fonteyn bring each scene they dance into brilliant flower. And when they dance together something of the mystery and tragedy of their two very different lives comes to the surface and animates their performance, giving it a realism that communicates their deep emotion for each other.
This is heartfelt and heart-wrenching art. When it finishes, one is exhausted and drained, but also inspired and delighted that this one-of-a-kind performance was recorded so that one may enjoy it over and over again.
Intriguing and Historically Important
Rick | Detroit, MI | 09/23/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
""O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name, or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, and I'll no longer be a Capulet"--William ShakespeareThe Royal Ballet's "Romeo and Juliet" is the most popular version of this ballet. The music is intriguing, and it was written by Serge Prokofiev. The promotional copy on the VCR dust jacket states that Prokofiev's score "has been recognized as the first great full-length ballet score since Tchaikowsky's classics." The choreography is by Kenneth MacMillan. The lead roles are danced by Dame Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev--the most famous dance partnership of the twentieth century.Fonteyn's performance is good, but not great. It is important to keep in mind that she was born in 1919 and that she was nearing the end of a long career when this was filmed in 1966. (The best dancing of Juliet that I have ever seen is by Alessandra Ferri in a 1984 recording of the Royal Ballet; unfortunately, the exquisite Ferri didn't have nearly as talented dancers surrounding her.) In this production, there are not many women who dance on pointe: only Juliet and her six friends. All of the rest of the women in the cast wear character shoes.Nureyev does the lion's share of the dancing in this production. He dances solo; he dances with his two friends, Mercutio and Benvolio; he dances with Juliet; and he also dances with some other women, as well. When he receives the note from Juliet's nurse stating that Juliet wants to marry him, he whips off a series of extremely fast chaine turns. He can spin like a top! Nureyev is clearly in his prime here.Paul Czinner is responsible for turning this performance into a motion picture. The camera angles are very well thought out. Some reviewers have complained about the close-ups of Fonteyn's face. There are a few camera angles that show her age, but there are also some nice shots of her smiling. I particularly enjoy the close-up of her face while she is struggling to repel the advances of Paris (Derek Rencher), the rejected suitor. There are also many winning close-up shots of the other prominent dancers. The question of Juliet's age isn't pertinent to only this ballet, but it is an issue with many reviewers of the non-ballet, movie versions of "Romeo and Juliet," as well. This is something that each viewer needs to resolve for themselves. It doesn't bother me, however, because I think that Fonteyn's experience makes her good theatrically.There is a comprehensive analysis of this ballet by Robert Greskovic in his excellent book "Ballet 101: A Complete Guide to Learning & Loving the Ballet" (1998). He writes, "The major Soviet precursor to MacMillan's 'Romeo and Juliet' is Leonid Lavrovsky's 1940 Leningrad Kirov Ballet's. It's realism, however, was more in the vein of Social Realism than a 'verismo' realist one. Soviet Social Realism had an agenda that accentuated the corrupt or negative aspects of merchant and aristocratic characters while promoting the goodness and purity of innocent common folk...."Physically and spiritually, MacMillan's 'Romeo' owes something to Lavrovsky's way with ballet. By 1965, Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet had toured the West with its staging of Lavrovsky's ballet and impressed audiences with its acrobatic aspects, especially with regard to partnering and lifts, as well as regarding such simple, forthright features as how ballerinas ran and leapt. Still, there was a chasteness and a kind of formal reserve in the fabric of Lavrovsky's aesthetic that MacMillan chose to bypass in favor of a more nakedly emotional effect."It wasn't only from aesthetics bred behind the Iron Curtain that MacMillan departed. His ways of conceiving and working ballet theater also went in a direction different from that of his own mentors and predecessors in England, primarily Ashton. As we shall see, MacMillan's realistic interests didn't prevent him from having his dancers get literally if not figuratively 'down and dirty' with their dancing. His lack of reticence about letting his ballerina/heroine get dragged along the floor in moments of fulsome emotion prompted some naysaying along lines such as: 'In ballet, people make love on their feet, not on the floor.'" (pp. 450-451) Note: the Greskovic book, "Ballet 101," is also available through Amazon.com.Remember how it was mentioned earlier that Romeo dances with a number of "other women" in this production? Some of those women happen to be harlots--at least, that's what the credits call them. Romeo and his two friends meet up and dance with three harlots in the Market Place (act one, scene one). As the first act progresses, Romeo meets Juliet, and they dance the famous balcony scene together. But, in act two, we find Romeo back in the Market Place. He initially repels the advances of his favorite harlot, but before too long he is "dancing" with her again. Another interesting point involves the women's hair styles. In classical ballet, women usually wear their hair up, but in this production there are four exceptions to that rule: the three harlots and Juliet all wear their hair down. You can decide for yourself whether that is significant.This video is of historic importance because of the Fonteyn/Nureyev partnership. They were the ones who really made this ballet famous internationally. Although Fonteyn is past her prime, Nureyev is in great form here. The Royal Ballet is very strong theatrically, and the costumes and scenery are all top-quality. A one-star reduction in the overall rating of this title is deserved because of the character of MacMillan's Romeo."
Sometimes magical, but often frustrating
D. M. Seeley | Kansas City, MO USA | 03/14/2001
(3 out of 5 stars)
"First, it should be said that every time Fonteyn and Nureyev danced together, there was a chemistry that transcended the choreography. Even with Fonteyn at the close of her amazing career in this production, those qualities of interpretation and connection shine through. Nureyev's dancing is solid, but as with many MacMillan ballets, he spends much time as a display pedestal for his partner. However, when Fonteyn, especially, is on screen, it is impossible to tear your eyes away: she truly was one of the most charismatic dancers of the last century.That said, I must confess to a great deal of frustration with this DVD. There was no effort made to re-master, as far as I can see. Also, as becomes obvious from the intro titles (with the edges chopped off), the coversion from PAL to NTSC was done haphazardly at best. In some scenes, dancers are partially cut-off from view, in others the frame speeds result in an almost jerky quality.Czinner, like many others in the past, tried very hard to turn the ballet production into a movie production, and fails miserably at times. Close-ups are filmed when MacMillan's spectacular corps choreography is occurring, so you miss some wonderful dancing. Often, the effort to capture "drama" for the movie screen ends up detracting terribly. One day, somebody will figure out that the best way to film ballet is to simply plop your camera in the best seat in the house with a wide angle lens and let it run. Would I purchase this again? Certainly. As a bit of history it has great value. However, I see no reason to spend the extra money on the DVD version -- it's no better than film, and the "extras" are nothing that you couldn't find elsewhere, and in a better format ("I am a Dancer", the VHS with Nureyev, comes to mind.) So save your DVD dollars and go for tape on this one."
Nureyev and Fonteyn in a perfect union of dance and drama
A Viewer and Reader | Frankfort MI USA | 02/27/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In 1965 I saw Nureyev and Fonteyn dance 'Romeo And Juliet' at the Arie Crown Theater in Chicago (I still have the program) and can attest to Maltin's comment that "zoom lens is a poor substitute for live performance". While those gorgeous moments will remain forever with me I would not forgo for an instant the pleasure of viewing what Czinner captured in his 1966 film of this ballet. This is dance drama as only Nureyev and Fonteyn could create it, and I don't believe it has ever been surpassed.MacMillan created his 'Romeo And Juliet' not for Nureyev and Fonteyn but for Lynn Seymour and Christopher Gable, and Gable was bitterly disappointed when his role was given over to Nureyev who didn't hesitate to inject his own changes into the choreography. Nureyev was perfectly cast as a randy Renaissance playboy suddenly entranced by Juliet's demure girlish innocence so perfectly projected by Fonteyn. She was forty-six at the time yet through her dancing she transformed herself into a romantically inspired teenager. The experience of this in the theater was stunning, as one is not diverted by camera close-ups, but even in the film I find myself thoroughly convinced by her portrayal. Of all the ballets that Nureyev and Fonteyn danced together this one most perfectly captured the contrasts in their personas that made their partnership so unique. He has been described as "fire", she as "light", and the synergy between them was unforgetable in this ballet.In his choreography MacMillan does a masterful job of characterizing Romeo who in the opening scene makes a play for Tybalt's girlfriend, Rosaline, dances in abandon with the harlots of the town, and then pursue Rosaline to the Capulet's ball. In contrast we meet Juliet playing with a doll in her anteroom and shying timidly away from her suitor, Paris. But at the ball Juliet plays the mandolin and Romeo, intruding himself, dances for her generating a spellbinding attraction between them that flowers into the balcony scene. Juliet gives herself to him, timidly at first but then freely in an exquisite pas-de-deux by which all subsequent performances by other dancers must be judged.Czinner's film of this ballet is filled with memorable moments; Desmond Doyle's outstanding portrayal of the menacing; treacherous Tybalt; David Blair's rendition of Mercutio's death; Romeo and Juliet's parting pas-de-deux filled with tenderness, longing, and grief (Shakespeare's words, "Oh thinkest thou we shall ever meet again?" fill the moment). But of all it is perhaps the tomb scene that remains the most vivid.Hearing of Juliet's death Romeo invades the Capulet's tomb, dispathes Paris, and mourns over Juliet's body. In Nureyev's lifts of Fonteyn's limp body he recreates a semblance of their balcony and bedroom trysts, pathetically trying to dance life into her once again, until overcome at last he takes poison and dies. Juliet awakens and now it is Fonteyn's turn to match Nureyev's sorrow and desperation as she realizes the tragic consequences of her failed plan. The poignancy of their deaths is so well realized the one felt a sense of relief when at last Rudi and Margo materialized before the curtain to take their tumultous curtain calls. This ballet is a perfect marriage of Prokofiev's sumptuous score, MacMillan's evocative choreography, the exquisite dancing of Nureyev and Fonteyn, and we are most fortunate to have it all preserved in Czinner's film, a "must own" for every lover of dance.One might indeed believe that Rudi defected in June 1961 to dance with Margo but the truth is that he was about to be arrested by the KGB in Paris and sent back to Russia. He threw himself upon the mercy of the French police, escaped, danced with the Cuevas company in Paris, and then with the Royal Danish Ballet. He didn't dance with Fonteyn until February 1962."