Romeo and Juliet - October 2015
Ballet at its best
Romeo and Juliet as performed by the English National Ballet which opened at the Bristol Hippodrome this week is an electrifying experience of sheer physicality.
It opens with dancers dressed in black plumage – and little else – to depict ravens flapping their wings thus setting the scene of foreboding.
It is the time of the Italian plague and the city of Verona is being ravaged by outbreaks of the bubonic scourge.
But this isn’t the only horrors as the noble families of Capulet and Montague become locked in a bloody feud which is only resolved when they unite in their grief.
The spectacular backdrop of a bustling marketplace complete with street acrobats frame the stage like a painting by Renaissance old masters Bellini or Raphael.
Costumes come in silk, satin and velvet bedecked with embroidery and jewels and in the chapel for the wedding guests wore flowers in their hair.
From flimsy, floating pastels to heavy red, purple brocades the corps de ballet mood was reflected by their finery but mostly their movement to the music which went from merriment to abject misery in a fleeting moment.
As an aside someone mentioned the warring factions were wearing the red and blue colours of Bristol City and Bristol Rovers which they thought could explained the conflict!
Romeo and Juliet is said to be have written by bard William Shakespeare at the end of the 16th century and since that time it has been read, acted, sung, danced, rewritten and - as the bane of schoolchildren - set as an English exam text.
The story comes in many guises from the US musical West Side Story with its racist gang warfare to the Gnomeo & Juliet the 2011 cartoon which has garden gnomes fighting over the flower beds.
It was first filmed at the turn of the century as a silent short but probably most notably in 1935 starring John Gielgud and Dame Peggy Ashcroft as Romeo and Juliet but my favourite to date was a modern interpretation made in 1996 by director Baz Luhrmann starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Yet the English National Ballet performance of the world’s greatest love story with Rudolf Nureyev’s inventive and passionate choreography and Prokofiev’s exhilarating score performed live by English National Ballet Philharmonic is the best ever.
What is not to like - the rugby scrum brawl or the precision sharp sword fighting? It is so realistic it made me wince; the impromptu passion between the young lovers was infinitely believable and the saucy jesting and subtle slapstick all made me smile.
It’s a boyish romp, it’s a girlish catfight, it is ballet, ballroom, folk, modern, sequence and tap dancing added to ghoulish giggles and masked serenades of blind man’s bluff. Brilliant.
Despite being more than three hours long it didn’t rack my attention span for a second.
The romantic pas de deux between Romeo and Juliet in the walled garden of entwined and mirrored bodies spelt out undying love in coupled symmetry.
And poor Juliet with no British law to protect her from a forced marriage turns to poison supplied by a man of God.
Except our Juliet is Romanian and Romeo is danced by a Mexican!
On Wednesday night Juliet was played by the diminutive lead principal Alina Cojocaru and Romeo by the Latino hottie and lead principal Isaac Hernández.
The image of Juliet’s silhouette of her deathbed as she mimed a scream lingers on with that of the tragic final embrace of the star-crossed lovers.
Friend Mike Bisacre who accompanied me to the performance summed up the ballet.
He said: “Aesthetically stunning, physically absorbing, emotionally draining.”
Romeo and Juliet play the Bristol Hipodrome nightly until Saturday, October 17 with matinee performances on Thursday and Saturday.
Tickets from £11.90 withconcessions available at certain performances.
Click HERE to book.
Premiered at the London Coliseum on June2, 1977;
Since then it has been performed by English National Ballet 373 times;
Known for its intense choreography, the balcony pas de deux lasts approximately seven minutes;
It has five kisses, more than eight coupes-jetes and 24 arabesques for each dancer and an impressive 22 lifts;
The bedroom pas de deux in Act III lasts approximately six minutes. In that time, Romeo has to lift Juliet off the floor 18 times - that’s once every 20 seconds;
The fight scene between Tybalt and Romeo lasts a little more than 90 seconds. In that time, their weapons clash more than 30 times;
The brawl in Act I features more than 28 dancers;
During the Capulet ball, there are nearly 40 people on stage;
After he meets Juliet, Romeo performs a short solo, travelling around the stage and doing more than 15 intricate steps and jumps in less than 20 seconds; and
Famous Nureyev Juliet’s include Lynn Seymour, Daria Klimentova, Agnes Oaks, Monique Louidere (Paris Opera Ballet), Carla Fracci (La Scala) and Sylvie Guillem (Paris pera Ballet).