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ROMEO AND JULIET – Royal Opera House, London.

romeo and julietRomeo and Juliet is probably Shakespeare’s most popular play. With MacMillan’s arresting choreography and Prokofiev’s memorable score, Romeo and Juliet is an exemplar of classical ballet which enjoys similar levels of popularity. The Royal Ballet’s adaptation captures the innocent romance between the star-crossed lovers that originally endeared us to the play and rejuvenates it.

The opening scenes are colourful and energetic, the rhythmic clashing of swords in the fight sequences are exciting and fun, with costumes as opulent as the music the ballroom scenes are particular highlights. The ballet owes a lot to Prokofiev’s music. One particularly beautiful musical motif, which is most prominent at the start of the famous balcony declaration, involves a haunting discord resolving to a satisfying Bb minor. It is short and simple but manages to captures the essence of Shakespeare’s tragedy: it is romantic and conveys the ineluctable love Romeo and Juliet have for each other, but at the same time creates foreboding, reminding us that this love is “death mark’d”.

Edward Watson’s interpretation of Romeo is worthy of note. Often in stage performances of Romeo and Juliet, Romeo can seem fickle or brash. How Romeo is received by an audience tends to depend on how the lovers’ first meeting is played. In fact, whether an audience warms to Romeo or decides to blame the entire tragedy on his flighty nature can turn on delivery of one line: “did my heart love till now?”. When he sees Juliet, Romeo learns what love truly is and Watson’s portrayal of Romeo’s journey is believable and enchanting. The contrast between the playful turns and jetés he performs for Rosaline in the opening scenes and those he performs for Juliet, which are much gentler and more extended, as if love has lightened his limbs, convinces us that Romeo has really not known love until this moment.

romeo and julietWatson is aided of course by MacMillan’s clever choreography. Even without Shakespeare’s words, the thoughts and emotions of his characters are expressed very successfully. For example, replacing Shakespeare’s sonnet, the purity and excitement of Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting is conveyed through absolute stillness between the two while the rest of the company dances behind them.

Watson and Melissa Hamilton as a pair perhaps could have be more vibrant and passionate, but they nevertheless have a pleasing chemistry. Hamilton moves from arabesques into lifts almost in slow motion which works perfectly for the romantic Pas de Deux and is lovely to look at. However, her natural elegance doesn’t quite capture the shock and horror of later events; nor does she have Lauren Cuthbertson’s presence.

With the music and costumes the dancers have a lot of drama to compete with and occasionally in the third act the dancing is slightly overpowered by other elements. For example, the lovers’ death doesn’t elicit tears, as good versions of this Shakespearean tragedy should. However, this is a small flaw in an otherwise excellent ballet.

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Reviewed 17/11/13

By Andrea White

21st Nov – 7th Dec 2013
Royal Opera House, London, WC2.

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