The State Academy Ballet Theatre of St.Petersburg

On a recent visit to Bruges we were able to see the touring Company of the Ballet Theatre of St. Petersburg – supported by their Capella Orchestra – performing Prokoviev’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’, choreographed by their director Yuri Petukhov. It was a strange production which introduced the malign character of Queen Mab whose evil influence manipulated the whole story-line of the ballet.

In Shakespeare’s play Mercutio makes fun of Romeo, wondering if Mab, the bringer of dreams in Celtic tradition, has visited his lovesick friend : ‘O, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you. She is the fairies’ midwife’. Here she became rather more than that – introducing and ending the ballet and losing in consequence the whole framework of the story of two families at enmity with each other. She kept on appearing (with a puff of smoke), weaving her spells and reducing the two lovers to little more than puppets and –for me – destroying the real tragedy of the drama.

The production was sumptuous with wonderful costumes and lighting, and committed dancing by a very youthful team of a very high standard. The intrusive re-writing of the plot, though an irritant, failed to spoil the evening.

The venue was the controversial new Concertgebouw which apparently has united local people in disapproval of the design which, like a series of huge red brick boxes, has harsh rectangular lines in contradiction to the soft contours of the medieval city. We could cope with that but it was the inside, like a vast (and confusing) grey bunker, which so disappointed us. There is nothing either to delight the eye or to be welcoming to the audience. A great building like this should be a reflection of the life of the community. It should have a buzz and a warmth to it. Instead the people were dwarfed by the long corridors and the cavernous auditorium and its muted light.

Too many moans for one blog! Bruges itself is a wonderful city, with its 50 shops selling chocolates and numerous others selling embroidery and lace, and some superb and very well mounted museums; its narrow cobbled streets and beautiful buildings a constant delight. Although full of tourists like us (in three days groups from four different nations stayed in our small hotel) a sense of a peaceful town is preserved, even when you have to dodge the cyclists and the horse-drawn carriages. Reservations about the ballet and a negative reaction to the Concert Hall in no way spoiled the visit for us.