English National Ballet's colourful Romeo and Juliet is a mixture of gusto and fuss.
English National Ballet's colourful Romeo and Juliet is a mixture of gusto and fuss. Rudolf Nureyev's production, created for this company in 1977, has been very popular. This revival has real sweep, with lively performances and splendid Renaissance designs. But the choreography has too many bright ideas, too much fiddly detail. It doesn't always leave room for the star-cross'd lovers.
Nureyev's emphasis on the Renaissance was his brightest idea. Ezio Frigerio dresses the feuding families in rich fabrics, green for Montagues and red for Capulets. His grandly spacious Verona echoes 15th-century designs for the ideal city. Nureyev filled it with bustle and banners. The street brawls are robust, with savage swipes and bawdy gestures. Nureyev also added some fine dramatic moments; forcing Juliet into an arranged marriage, her family push her into her wedding dress.
Nureyev also went back to Shakespeare. He included scenes left out by most balletic Romeos, which follow the scenario laid down by Prokofiev's score. Here, we don't just see Juliet take her sleeping potion, we see Romeo hearing the false news of her death. It does make the plot clear, but it is musically peculiar.
Other scenes are expanded. Juliet exclaims that Death, not Romeo, will take her maidenhead. Nureyev gives her a brief encounter with a skull-faced figure of death: without programme notes, I would have been lost.
If Nureyev's dramaturgy is busy, his dance scenes are more so. Romeo appears only to dash through a solo crammed with classroom steps. This choreography is forced, often hectic. The dancers have to strain to fit it all in. This isn't a lyrical Romeo. When Juliet decides to take her potion, she is manhandled by the ghosts of Tybalt and Mercutio. Daria Klimentová is a bold Juliet, and I wish she'd been left to get on with it. The first part of her potion scene, without the ghosts, is the evening's finest moment.
Even so, the dancing is vivid. Klimentová gives a quick, mercurial performance, pouncing on moments of drama - a kiss, a shudder. She gives Juliet's despair a heroic force. Dmitri Gruzdyev, her Romeo, is lighter. He's good at smoothing Nureyev's wrenching solos into elegance.
Yat Sen Chang is a bright Mercutio, emphasising quirks and contrasts in his steps. Laura Hussey is a bouncy, obviously youthful Nurse. Jane Haworth makes a fierce, pointed Lady Capulet. As her husband, Paul Lewis, moves with gravity and weight. And Martin West conducts an energetic Orchestra of English National Ballet.
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