The stage was set for the 468th performance of Romeo & Juliet by The Royal Ballet at The Royal Opera House. It was very fitting that in the 50th Anniversary Year since Sir Kenneth MacMillan created his first full-length work for The Royal Ballet, this now timeless Classic opened the Royal Ballet’s 2015/16 season. This was not just a performance for the sell out audience at the ROH, but with thanks to BP’s sponsorship, the performance was to be televised and shown live on the big screen at venues around the UK and relayed to audiences in the millions around the globe.
The whole company, from the principal dancers to the corps de ballet, rose to the occasion. Kenneth would have been proud that his work is still in such good shape and continues to challenge great dancers as much now as it did when it was first created 50 years ago. Kenneth created the ballet on Lynn Seymour – his muse for many years – and Christopher Gable, a dancer with engaging skills as an actor too. However, back in 1965 the premiere was performed by Fonteyn and Nureyev at the insistence of the management and the impresario of the upcoming tour of the USA.
This evening Sarah Lamb played Juliet alongside Steven McRae as her Romeo. As a pair of star crossed lovers both were in complete command of the choreography and its technical demands that enabled them to tell the story through their artistry and Kenneth’s incredible dramatic vocabulary of movement that brings audiences into the moment.
Sarah danced with a fluidity and expression from the moment she entered the stage. As a young and innocent teenager playing games with her nurse who at the end of the scene pointed out that adulthood was upon her and that she should put aside the dolls and prepare herself for marriage. Sarah had clearly thought through the role as Juliet. You could see in her expression at the ballroom that she had found her first and only love; it did not matter that Romeo was not a Capulet, in her eyes at least. Sarah danced with a delicious sensuality which in the final scene of the act was clear to see.
Steven McRae danced with style and certainly rose to the occasion. You could not fault his ability to dance every turn and jump with unfaltering ease and line that was pleasing to the eye. This was very much in evidence when Steven was dancing for his new found love in the Ballroom scene and the opening 2nd Act market scene, when in a dreamy state he sprung to life taking full use of the stage with blisteringly fast turns ending with a superb series of saut de basque that most male dancers could only dream about.
Other performances to note in equal measures were from the young Alexander Campell who played Mercutio with great gusto, wit and the devilish behaviour that the role requires in abundance; Gary Avis whose Tybalt has to be one of the best and most memorable of this difficult and fierce character that stands and fights for his family till the end of his dying moments, when he is left in the arms of Lady Capulet, played with real dramatic understanding by Elizabeth McGorian; and finally Christopher Saunders, who took on the key character role of Lord Capulet, that for many years was played by the great Michael Somes. Kenneth wanted dancers to be able to portray real people, who could act in a way that was credible in order that the narrative ballets he created could last the testament of time.
It is important to note the inspiring collaboration that Kenneth created with John B. Read and Nicholas Georgiadis at the outset of his choreographic journey. Romeo & Juliet and many of his celebrated works might not have taken centre stage without the brilliance of these two influential people. Kenneth understood that if you cannot see the dancers on stage it is lost on the audience, no matter how brilliant the choreography or dancers might be. A lesson even some of the more recent celebrated choreographers have yet to learn. John B Read’s lighting design is powerful and works to great effect in creating a sense of drama, especially in the dark scenes such as the famous Balcony Pas de Deux. Equally, Georgiadis’ set designs are sublime and have not been changed since the opening night fifty years ago; the stairs and balconies work at every level for all three acts! Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo & Juliet is a timeless Classic that can and should be seen more than once.
Performances till 2nd Dec. Booking 020 7304 4000 roh.org.uk