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Bard's Fisher Center and the Mark Morris Dance Group Announce the Historic World Premiere of the Original Version of Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet

Mark Primoff


ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College and the Mark Morris Dance Group announce the world premiere of Sergei Prokofiev's original Romeo & Juliet, on Motifs of Shakespeare, featuring the original score and scenario, with new choreography by Mark Morris. This production of the ballet, to be premiered at Bard's 2008 SummerScape Festival, which will focus on the works of Prokofiev, relies on exclusive documents unearthed in Moscow by Princeton University musicologist Simon Morrison and represents the first time Prokofiev's ballet will be performed according to the composer's instructions.

This new Mark Morris Dance Group production of Prokofiev's original version of Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Mark Morris, is being commissioned by the Fisher Center at Bard College and will be performed by the American Symphony Orchestra, led by Leon Botstein, and the Mark Morris Dance Group. An international consortium of co-commissioners will have the exclusive license to present the ballet from its premiere at Bard in July 2008. The production will feature scenic design by Allen Moyer, costume design by Martin Pakledinaz, and lighting design by James F. Ingalls, all of whom are longtime collaborators of Mark Morris.

"The opportunity to present the premiere of one of the greatest full-length works for dance in its original form|the one completed by the composer without regard to the pressures of Stalinist censorship|is thrilling," said Leon Botstein, co-artistic director of the Bard Music Festival, music director of the American Symphony Orchestra, and president of Bard College. "This is one of the few, genuinely significant moments of discovery. And if that were not enough, the opportunity to collaborate with Mark Morris, a choreographer uniquely attuned to music, promises to make the occasion memorable and historic."

According to Morrison, the project has no parallel in ballet history and will correct an historical injustice. It is perhaps hard to imagine that Romeo & Juliet, arguably the most popular ballet of the 20th century, has never been performed as the composer intended. But the original, intended Romeo & Juliet score, which is preserved at The Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, has never been performed, even though the composer left precise and detailed instructions with respect to the orchestration. It includes six new dance numbers, adding 15 minutes of new music and resulting in a radically different ending to the story.

Prokofiev conceived the ballet in 1935 in collaboration with innovative Soviet dramatist Sergei Radlov, who re-imagined the familiar tragedy "as a struggle for the right to love by young, strong, and progressive people battling against feudal traditions and feudal outlooks on marriage and family." Much of Prokofiev's score addresses the theme of love's transcendence over oppression. However, in a radical gesture that caused a scandal in the Soviet ballet circles, Prokofiev and Radlov gave the ballet a happy ending. In the final scene, Juliet rouses from her potion-induced sleep just as Romeo begins to conclude that she has died. The two lovers express their feelings of relief and joy in a final dance. The music represents the two lovers willing away their world-the Verona square and palace-and entering another, greater one.

But this final act has never been staged. Prokofiev presented his score to Soviet cultural officials, who responded by canceling the premiere productions in Leningrad and Moscow. Prokofiev at first defended his and Radlov's ending, arguing that "living people can dance, the dying cannot" and that "Shakespeare was himself said to be uncertain about the endings of his plays." However, had he not rewritten the score, he would never have seen it staged.

The artistic climate in Stalin's Russia darkened: in dance, music, and drama, conservative neoclassicism supplanted accessible innovation. Not only was Prokofiev forced to rewrite the ending of the ballet replacing the entire forth act with an epilogue, he was forced to insert large-scale solo dances for the Ball and Balcony Scenes, the result being a break-up of the dramatic flow. A divertissement involving three exotic dances in Act III was scrapped for logistical reasons. The Kirov Theater dancers complained about the difficulty of the rhythms and the original choreographer, Leonid Lavrovsky, insisted on thickening the orchestration. As the demands piled up, Prokofiev became increasingly frustrated, but each time, he acquiesced in an effort to see the work performed. The ballet received its Russian premiere in 1940. When Prokofiev saw it, he had a hard time recognizing parts of his own music. He pleaded to no avail to undo the changes that he had strongly resisted.

Romeo & Juliet, on Motifs of Shakespeare's opening night, July 4, is a gala benefit for SummerScape; five additional performances are on July 5, 6, 8 and 9, 2008.

The presenters express their sincere gratitude to the Prokofiev Estate, especially Serge Prokofieff Jr., and to the director and assistant director of the Russian State Archive of Literature (RGALI), Tatiana Goryaeva, and Galina Zlobina, for making this event possible.

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This event was last updated on 02-14-2008