With its sumptuous designs by Nicholas Georgiadis, inspired by Renaissance paintings, and, of course, Prokofiev’s ravishing score, MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet really transports its audience to Renaissance Verona and plunges them into the lethal mixture of rivalries and hates that ultimately fuel the young lovers’ tragedy.
MacMillan finds the right balance and contrast between the ensemble scenes: be it in the riotous public square where larking around can turn into vicious fighting in a split second; or in the elegant ballroom of the Capulets' home, on the one hand and the intimacy of Romeo and Juliet’s encounters, on the other.
On opening night driven by the ROH orchestra in fine form under the baton of Koen Kessels, the company danced the crowd scenes with exhilarating energy and perfect coordination. The three harlots (Itziar Mendizabal, Claire Calvert, Mayra Magri) were particularly galling to the good citizens of Verona. The dancing nobles in the ballroom scene were elegant and arrogant, as they should be.
Gary Avis, one of the best character artists around, was his usual compelling Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin and self-imposed guardian of the Capulets’ honour – a hate-filled man capable of courtly gestures, but always spoiling for a good sword fight, whose drunken provocations in Act II trigger the final tragedy.
The sword fights are as thrilling as ever.
Romeo’s carefree friend Mercutio was danced by Valentino Zucchetti, technically competent, but rather muted in his reading of a character which others have interpreted as much more flamboyant in his death-defying antics. Zucchetti’s Mercutio was no match for Avis’ Tybalt.
Ultimately though, Romeo and Juliet stands or falls on the performance of the two leads. On opening night Romeo was entrusted to Matthew Ball, Juliet to Lauren Cuthbertson.
Both Royal Ballet Principals are superb dancers with faultless technique. Ball is handsome, intelligent, meticulous in his shaping of character and a safe and generous partner. He can do passionate, as well as laddish, as witnessed by the playful pas de trois with his friends Mercutio and Benvolio (James Hay).
Cuthbertson is a dancer very much in the English mould, her technique – soaring arabesques, urgent bourrées – working well towards portraying Juliet as a complex child-woman.
There was, however, a certain lack of emotional eloquence in her perhaps over-studied Juliet, which was mirrored by the understated ardour of Ball's Romeo; and I didn’t sense a great chemistry between Ball and Cuthbertson. The spark that makes performances electric and the poignancy of the drama almost unbearable was missing, which contributed to the slightly muted tone of the evening.
In a run that stretches will into June, there will be a wide variety of casts; it’ll be interesting to see how other partnerships click in these two difficult roles.
Romeo and Juliet will be relayed live to cinemas around the world on Tuesday, 11 June, starring Matthew Ball and Yasmine Naghdi in the lead roles.
|What||The Royal Ballet, Romeo and Juliet Review|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
26 Mar 19 – 11 Jun 19, 19:30 Sat mats 13:30 + some early evening starts Dur.: 3 hours approx inc two intervals
|Website||Click to book via the ROH|