Romeo and Juliet review 22 March 2012

Last night was the second of the Royal Ballet’s live broadcasts to 500 cinemas across the world, a performance of Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. The lead roles were being performed by Federico Bonelli and Lauren Cuthbertson and it was their first time performing this ballet together which seems to be largely due to Sergei Polunin’s shock departure at the end of January. That said, there have been 6 performances of Romeo and Juliet in the intervening period so to expect them to have had a trial run wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination. The fact that it makes a much better story if it’s the first time they’ve danced the ballet together could be classed as cynical but what can I say? When it comes to the Royal Ballet, I am very cynical.

This was only the fourth time I have ever seen the Royal Ballet and, to be honest, I went in not expecting to enjoy it in the least. The three previous performances (all seen live at great expense) have ranged from phenomenal to absolutely god-awful. The phenomenal was a triple bill starring Miyako Yoshida in the Firebird, Sylvie Guillem in the first revival of Marguerite and Armande since it was created for Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev and Darcy Bussell in a wonderful ballet called The Concert which allowed Bussell’s comic timing to shine through. The god-awful was the Sleeping Beauty in 2004. The production was bad, a cherub needed shooting and the dancing was horrendous. For the country’s (allegedly) premier ballet company, it was embarrassing. In addition to that, having tried to watch Alice in Wonderland when it was screened shortly after its creation and having been unable to watch more than 20 minutes as the psychedelic sets made me motion sick in my sitting room, it all added up to a performance for which my hopes were not particularly high…

Luckily, by and large, my expectations were exceeded although given that I was expecting to hate every minute of it, that wasn’t difficult. The performance itself was good overall with Bonelli in particular giving a phenomenal performance as Romeo. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was the best I’ve ever seen but I’d certainly rate it in my top five. Cuthbertson was, however, in my opinion, pretty average in the first act and whether this was due to nerves or just having difficulties getting into her character, I don’t know. I will say though that having found her rather bland in the first act, I was rather concerned about the third act given the dramatic requirements of the bedroom pas de deux and the crypt scene but my concerns were baseless.

She was amazing.

You really felt her pain and desperation and it was a truly stunning performance. I just wish she had channelled some of that into the first half of the production.

As for the remaining cast, special mentions must go to Alexander Campbell as Mercutio and Bennet Gartside who played Tybalt. Campbell is the only dancer whose style I am familiar with having previously danced with Birmingham Royal Ballet and Mercutio is a role which suits him down to the ground. Cheeky, fleet of foot and jumping all over the place, the choreography was made for him. The close ups also worked to Campbell’s advantage as one of the things which makes him a consummate actor is his face. He expresses emotion incredibly well and one of the joys of his recent trip back to Birmingham to star in Hobson’s Choice was watching him sitting still. Not because there was anything lacking in the dancing but because watching the discomfort and nerves of the character being played out on his face and in the tiny nervous twitches of his hands showed the class of the actor within the dancer. The only downside of the close-ups was the fact that you can lip-read certain words rather easily and when Mercutio was stabbed, I’m fairly sure he said something which definitely wasn’t in the original Shakespearean text…

Alexander Campbell and Gary Avis in Romeo and Juliet

My only wish is that I could afford to see him dance more often although Opera House ticket prices mean that I would need to re-mortgage my flat to make that a possibility. I also hope the Royal Ballet realise quite how good he is as, having seen him dance Romeo once, it would be criminal not to let him dance it again. As for Gartside, he had just about the right amount of menace and the interplay between him and Campbell was excellent.

In the introduction to the performance, Lady Deborah MacMillan described the pas de deux as being the jewels of the ballet and the surrounding work as being the filigree and the support for those jewels. In my opinion, whilst these four dancers were definitely the jewels, the supporting structure was a little tarnished. There were numerous timing issues that I noticed, the Mandolin dance was completely out of synch and the lead Mandolin dancer was very lucky to land one of his pirouettes anywhere other than his backside, it was that off-centre. Given that this ballet has been performed since January 10th, you would have thought that these issues might have been ironed out. The appearance was more of a second or third performance where rehearsal time has been very limited. I understand that due to the nature of the Royal Ballet’s performance schedule they cannot get into the rhythm of performances as many companies can but given that this was being broadcast to the world, I would have thought they might have spent some time polishing some of the rough edges.

I was overall impressed with the performance; the key players were brilliant but when you look at the detail you start to see the weaknesses. There is always such a focus on the principals and I think the highly hierarchical of the company means that the lower ranks start to suffer, something which has been confirmed by this performed. Hopefully this is something which Kevin O’Hare can rectify when he takes over at the end of this season.

Average Josephine x

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