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Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

EVERY once in a while the theatrical gods smile upon a production and lift it to a thing of exquisite beauty, something quite magical.

You cannot put your finger on it, you cannot even hope to replicate it, rehearse it or predict it – it just happens.

Thus it was with the opening night of Romeo and Juliet. From the opening notes of Prokofiev’s sumptuous score to the fading requiem for our star-crossed lovers it was raised to another plane

This is a production full of richness and colour with many more scene changes than we are used to in ballet with a market place, street scenes, the Capulets’ fine house in Verona, a ballroom, bedroom, chapel, the Capulets’ family crypt and, of course, a balcony.

It is also full of life as it tells the world’s greatest lRomeo and Julietove story; two warring families, the Montagues and the Capulets are at each other's throats and amid the feuding Romeo, a Montague, falls in love with Juliet, a Capulet.

It is a love story that is doomed from the start of course – even though Prokofiev initially wanted a happy ending when he wrote it in 1935, with our lovers skipping off together into the sunset.

It is also a love story that demands acting as well as dancing. This is not a folk tale fantasy with sprites, or sorcerers, wicked fairies and queens, it is a well-known, much-loved story about real people, a story full of real emotions, real feelings and real drama- and one which cries out to be told which the entire cast manage admirably. 

Iain MacKay as Romeo and Jenna Roberts as Juliet. Pictures: Bill Cooper

The clash between the two sworn enemies flares in the opening scene when Montagues and Capulets become embroiled in a beautifully choreographed mass brawl in the marketplace, the clatter of sword on sword not only looking realistic but adding an extra rhythmic element to the music.

Here we meet Romeo, danced with authority by Iain Mackay, and his friends Mercutio and Benvolio, danced by the lively pair Mathias Dingman and Yasuo Atsuji.

And in the red corner we have the Capulets led by Tybalt, danced with an unsmiling, menacing air by Tyrone Singleton, who does a good job of letting us all know who is the baddy in this piece. Relations, incidentally, are not helped by Romeo trying to woo Rosaline, a Capulet.

A couple of deaths on either side cut the cast numbers down before the Prince of Verona, danced by Jonathan Payn, arrives and admonishes both houses, demanding the feud ends there and then. Some hope.

It all gets into a romantic tangle with first Lord and Lady Capulet, Michael O’Hare and Samara Downs, trying to marry their teenage daughter Juliet off to wealthy nobleman Paris, a kinsman of the Prince, danced by Steven Monteith and then Romeo and friends gatecrashing a ball at the Capulets’ house so lover boy can plight his troth yet again for Rosaline.

Except he falls head over heels for Juliet, and she for him; Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers are embarking on the most famous love story of all time, a love story which saw the opening act close with one of the most joyous, passionate, romantic and tender pas de deux seen for many a year.

Mackay and Jenna Roberts as Juliet are just mesmerising, as near to perfection as you are likely to see, quite beautiful to watch. Juliet in Shakespeare’s play is 13 and Robjuliet on her balconyerts beautifully portrays an innocent, vulnerable, girl who has just entered her teens, lifted effortlessly by MacKay in a dazzling performance.

The pair, aided by Juliet’s nurse, another wonderful character appearance from Marion Tait, then persuade Friar Laurence to secretly marry them. It probably helped in the persuasion, of course, that the good friar was Iain Mackay’s brother Rory. 

Juliet on the balcony in the moonlight

If it was hoped the marriage might end the family feud it didn’t work, for back in the market place it is swords drawn again as Tybalt goads Mercutio into a fight and kills him in a quite cowardly act.

So Romeo avenges his friend’s death by killing Tybalt – and both victims could fill a complete scene, or even a short ballet in Mercutio’s case, with their death throes.

Romeo is banished  but he manages to spend a secret night with his new bride before leaving Verona  leaving Juliet finding herself being forced  into what would now be a bigamous marriage with Paris by her parents.

So she enlists the help of the good friar again who provides a potion that, once swallowed, will feign death. The plan is simple: she will appear dead and will be lain in the family tomb; Romeo will be told and will return to rescue her and take her away to live happily ever after.

Sadly, no one manages to get the message to Romeo who just hears she is dead, and he finds her lifeless body in the family crypt. Full of grief he picks up her rag doll body for a final, sad, moving pas de deux. With his Juliet gone he takes a dose of poison he just happened to have in his pocket – don’t ask, maybe everyone carried one back then, just in case, I don’t know.

Juliet then awakes and finds her husband and lover dead so kills herself to the funereal dying notes of the score. Romeo and Juliet are together at last.

This version, choreographed by Sir Kenneth MacMillan, dates back to 1965 and originally had Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev in the title roles, and it works well with the already strong and well known narrative.

Of all Shakespeare’s plays this is the one which is easiest to transldeath sceneate and tell  through dance, a romantic, moving and ultimately tragic love story which is universal in its narrative, whether it is Montagues and Capulets or, in, its modern descendent West Side Story, Sharks and Jets. 

A dying Juliet looks down upon the body of her dead Romeo

It is about love defying seemingly impossible odds with echoes all around in modern plays, books and films, whether it be Protestant-Catholic, black-white, Arab-Israeli. It is story spanning generations, religions, cultures, tribes and centuries.

It is a big cast with well ordered crowd scenes and dramatic fight scenes as well as splendid contributions from the likes of Céline Gittens, Yvette Knight and Angela Paul as three harlots and Tzu-ChaoChou leading the Mandolin dance.

Paul Andrews’ designs of sets, with their opulent flags and standards hanging from the flies, and especially the costumes, give a real flavour of 16thcentury Verona while John B Read’s lighting ranges from delicate to dramatic, with the moonlight in the balcony scene particularly effective.

And once again the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, conducted this time by Koen Kessels, did not disappoint, bringing the well-known score alive.

The music, dancing, lighting, costumes all combine into something wonderful and quite unmissable. To 27-02-15.

Roger Clarke

24-02-16

BRB

 

And another day in Verona

*****

IT’S hard to imagine this famous love story without the wonderful words of William Shakespeare to explain the joys and heartbreak of Romeo and Juliet.

But the brilliant Birmingham Royal Ballet achieve it with extraordinary dancing and mime, embellished by the sublime music of Prokofiev played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, conducted by Paul Murphy.

This really is a remarkable ballet, dealing with the sworn enmity between two families – the Capulets and the Montagues - which reaches a poisonous level when Romeo and Juliet, from opposite camps, fall in love.

Playing the star-crossed lovers, Chi Cao and Nao Sakuma produce some stunning moments, especially in the tragic crypt scene as the story reaches its inevitable conclusion.

Outstanding performances, too, from Valentin Olovyannikov (Tybalt), Tzu-Chao Chou (Mercutio), plus an amusing contribution from the veteran Marion Tait as Nurse, and some superb dancing by Celine Gittens, Jade Heusen and Maureya Lebowitz (the Three Harlots).

The entire cast deliver dancing of the highest quality, while Dominic Antonucci shows considerable stage presence in the role of Lord Capulet whose desire to see daughter Juliet married off to wealthy nobleman Paris (Tom Rogers) is doomed from the start.

There are many superb scenes with spectacular sets and glorious costumes, but for me the highlight came with the incredible massed swordfight between the warring families and their friends. It was quite brilliantly choreographed and so realistic…the Three Musketeers never reached this standard.

Romeo and Juliet, with choreography by Kenneth MacMillan, runs to 27.02.16

Paul Marston 

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