Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev in rehearsal for Romeo and Juliet
If you recall, there was much commotion back in February over the incredible long-standing chemistry between Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir that was on full display during the PyeongChang Olympics. If you go back a few decades, this same incredible chemistry existed between an unlikely pair: an English ballerina who was 42 – an age most dancers considered retirement, and a recently-defected Soviet dancer, Rudolf Nureyev, who was 24. When they were paired up to dance for the first time in 1962, a legendary partnership was born – she, refined and elegant; he, fiery and theatrical. Both were consummate dancers.
It makes a lot of sense that they would dance to Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet”, which the composer completed some 27 years previously, in 1935. A composer and pianist, Prokofiev had an uneasy relationship with the government, which often monitored his work to ensure it sounded “appropriate”. Prokofiev had left the Soviet Union to tour in the United States, and temporarily settled in Paris (he would continue to visit Moscow) and due to homesickness, was making overtures to return. He eventually did. The Bolshoi Ballet was supposed to premiere “Romeo and Juliet”, but the plan fell through. Years later, the Kirov Ballet premiered the work in 1940. The dancers struggled with the complex rhythms of the music and nearly grand jeté-ed out on the production. Good thing they didn’t; the ballet was a success right off the bat, and known as a high point in Soviet dramatic ballet.
This production of “Romeo and Juliet” was choreographed by Kenneth MacMillian and premiered in 1965 at Covent Garden by The Royal Ballet. It was also an immediate success, danced by Fonteyn and Nureyev. The curtain calls lasted for an incredible 40 minutes, for a total of 43 curtain calls. The intensely close friendship between the dancers was equally enduring – they remained committed friends until Fonteyn’s death in 1991 of cancer. Nureyev paid many of her medical bills and visited often. The balcony scene from “Romeo and Juliet”, featured in the video below, reveals some of Prokofiev’s music at its most intimate.
Sergei Prokofiev was born April 23, 1981 in the then Soviet Union, and died March 5, 1953,in Moscow.