1. At the Kirov, Lavrovsky’s ballerina was Galina Ulanova; their “Romeo” success was such that Stalin installed them both at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow as resident stars of what had become the national company. The revised Bolshoi “Romeo” (1946) helped define the Bolshoi aesthetic: powerful Stanislavskian realism and uninhibited acting intensity.
The Bolshoi’s impetuous acting style perfectly caught the color and storytelling verve of Prokofiev’s score, which often sounds like the greatest film music ever written. Ulanova’s Juliet (Prokofiev hailed her as “the genius of Russian ballet, its elusive soul”) had the fervor of Lillian Gish’s greatest silent-movie performances; her most famous moments were in running across the stage to Friar Laurence’s cell, inflamed by despair.
2. The British choreographer Frederick Ashton found every way he could to heighten the ballet’s dance content in his 1956 version. The score’s most notable number, the patriarchal “Dance of the Capulet,” is usually staged with slow-marching processions; Ashton instead made it an elegant male display in which Paris and the other Capulet men danced on the spot, feet crisscrossing in entrechats like flashing blades, shoulders proudly pivoting from side to side. No “Romeo” is more fully a classical ballet.
3. The theatrical vitality of John Cranko’s 1962 production, danced in America today by the Boston Ballet and Miami City Ballet (and at one time by the Joffrey Ballet), still generates affection among many devotees. Cranko has probably never been surpassed for the zest of his crowd scenes, and his Mercutio can be the ballet’s most engaging character. There’s more dancing than in Lavrovsky.
4. Kenneth MacMillan’s…