Review – Romeo and Juliet – Birmingham Royal Ballet at Sadler’s Wells

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As the first ballet I’ve been able to see in London since the Bolshoi departed for pastures snowy in August, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet was very high on the excitement level. I consider this company very accomplished and had high expectations for their performance of a ballet I love, with its striking Prokofiev score and deeply emotional story.

Unfortunately, BRB failed to deliver, a problem which I’ll attribute greatly to the Kenneth Macmillan choreography, which I had not seen before*. It was full of over-dramatic movement: arms held high in grief a la Laurencia; women standing in heavily curved positions meant to look like Renaissance painting; the maneki-neko hands of the Capulet court ladies I found the gestures and posturing grating, unnatural, off-putting, and occasionally comic. The simplistic sword fighting was at least fun and active; but the mannerized, stiff choreography that filled most of the night left me flat and seemed an incredible waste of a great score. The “Dance of the Capulets” was forgettable – an outrage! – and while Romeo (Iain Mackay) and Tybalt (Robert Parker)’s power struggle during the second iteration of this bit of music was interesting, the dances themselves were … overly complex and indigestible.

On the positive side, our lead characters (Jenna Roberts as Juliet) had great chemistry, stage presence, and acting skills. Juliet was fluid and charming; her Romeo was utterly devoted and star-struck. However, Iain Mackay once again displayed a painful inability to manage overhead lifts, even in scene one, when he should have been at his strongest; he needs to be sent for remedial weight training stat.

My complaints end with a sort of sadness about the lack of emotional impact this ballet had on me. I remember seeing the bedroom scene – as done by Kent Stowell of Pacific Northwest Ballet, of all people – leaving me damp-eyed and reminding myself “These are dancers playing fictional characters! There is nothing to be sad about here!” but this Romeo and Juliet left me with none of that. Instead, I grew impatient for this very long ballet to simply end, hoping (at around 10 PM) that Romeo would make his appearance and get on with offing himself. Admittedly, Roberts was the floppiest dead “star-cross’d lover” I’d ever seen – but I felt no pain for her or Romeo in the final scene. And I really want that, a chance for a good weep, not just an opportunity to ooh-aah over lovely costumes; and, unfortunately, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production denied me this pleasure. Bah. On to “Pointes of View” on Friday, which I’m sure I will find far more satisfying.

*Seriously, why the hookers? It’s not in the original and it adds an unnecessary layer of smarm to the ballet. Prostitutes dancing with Montagues is one of the least attractive additions to a known story ballet I’ve ever seen.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, October 12, 2010. The show continues through Thursday, October 14th. For a different point of view, see Graham Watt’s review on LondonDance.com.)

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