Music: Sergei Prokofiev
Choreographer: Kenneth MacMillan
Reviewer: Laura Bateman
Romeo and Juliet is one of the most celebrated ballets in the modern repertoire. Choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan for The Royal Ballet, it premiered in 1965 with Rudolph Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn in the title roles. It has since become a staple of both The Royal Ballet’s and Birmingham Royal Ballet’s repertoire, and the latter’s current revival tour is a stunning showcase for the company’s talented dancers.
Based on William Shakespeare’s tragic play, the ballet opens in 16th-century Verona. Romeo Montague, a young nobleman, is infatuated with the haughty Rosaline. He and his friends, Mercutio and Benvolio, taunt Tybalt Capulet, of the opposing noble family, and blood is soon shed. The Prince orders the families to end their feud, and the men reluctantly throw down their swords. Meanwhile, young Juliet Capulet is introduced to her fiancé, family friend Paris. Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio decide to gatecrash the Capulets’ party so Romeo can get closer to Rosaline, but while there, he and Juliet meet and instantly fall in love. With the help of a kindly friar and Juliet’s nurse, the lovers marry in secret, but this sparks a tragic downward spiral which ends in multiple deaths.
This is a magnificently danced and beautifully designed production displaying the best that Birmingham Royal Ballet has to offer. There is fine footwork from the corps de ballet, although the acting occasionally veers towards the melodramatic. Céline Gittens, Angela Paul and Yvette Knight bring sparkling energy to the three harlots who flirt with the Montague boys, and Samara Downs and Delia Mathews give Lady Capulet and Rosaline a regal imperiousness. Marion Tait is a touching Nurse, Steven Monteith is a pompous, patriarchal Paris, and there is an outstanding display of technique from Tzu-Chao Chou as the leader of the Mandolin dance.
But this ballet belongs to its leads, and Jenna Roberts as Juliet is magnificent throughout. Technically excellent and with a magnetic stage presence, Roberts dances with a weightless elegance and transitions effortlessly from girlish exuberance to a more worldly desperation. She acts with her entire body: her shoulders tensing to protect herself from her father’s wrath, her eyes fluttering closed when Romeo touches her hand. It is a superbly realised and intensely believable performance.
After a slightly shaky start, Iain Mackay makes a fine Romeo, bringing a glorious romanticism to the balcony pas de deux and a touching protectiveness to the bedroom scene. He is ably supported by the excellent Mathias Dingman as a foolhardy, boyish Mercutio and Yasuo Atsuji as Benvolio. The designs from Paul Andrews are also terrific, the sets towering in shades of brown and red, transforming (in a rather clunky scene-change) to a gloomy, ethereal vault. The opulent, glittering costumes are highlighted by John B. Read’s atmospheric lighting design, and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia bring Prokofiev’s stunning score to rousing life under the direction of conductor Paul Murphy.
Romeo and Juliet is one of MacMillan’s masterpieces, and Birmingham Royal Ballet’s impressive revival harnesses the full potential of his choreography. Strong dancing throughout the ranks, coupled with Jenna Roberts’ and Iain Mackay’s luminous performances, gives a stirring, tragic weight to Shakespeare’s well-loved story.
Runs until 2 April 2016 and on tour | Image: Contributed