• Tamara Rojo and Matthew Lawrence.  Photo: David Kelly.
    Tamara Rojo and Matthew Lawrence. Photo: David Kelly.
  • Vito Bernasconi and Matthew Lawrence.  Photo: David Kelly.
    Vito Bernasconi and Matthew Lawrence. Photo: David Kelly.
  • Queensland Ballet performing Romeo and Juliet.  Photo: David Kelly.
    Queensland Ballet performing Romeo and Juliet. Photo: David Kelly.

Queensland Ballet: Romeo and Juliet -
Lyric Theatre, QPAC, 27 June -

Undoubtedly Queensland Ballet Artistic Director Li Cunxin is a man who dares to dream big. His desire to be the first in Australia to mount a production of Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, engaging ballet luminaries Tamara Rojo, Carlos Acosta and Steven McRae as guest artists, is testament to his high aspirations. However, with what has obviously been a huge collaborative effort between the various stakeholders, Li and the Queensland Ballet have pulled it off.

MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet is indeed a big ballet – big on sets and costumes (all on loan from the Birmingham Royal Ballet), big in its Prokofiev score (brilliantly played here by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra under Andrew Mogrelia), and big in the number of dancers required on stage – at one point at least 70. Therefore, as well as guest artists, Li has successfully used dancers from QB’s ancillary training programs and the Queensland Dance School of Excellence to bolster the ranks.

Like many of MacMillan’s works, the ballet’s lynchpins are the various pas de deux that were choreographed first, with the exquisite Act I balcony pas de deux undoubtedly the highlight. The rest of the ballet is constructed around these as a rich, opulent framework; visually spectacular, the rich browns and ochres of the market scenes contrast with the heraldic majesty of the ball scene with its sumptuous costuming of weighty velvets and brocades.

Similarly, the fluid spontaneity of the choreography for both Juliet and Romeo juxtaposed against the very stylised and almost oppressively formal movement of the Capulets and Montagues, especially in the “Dance of the Knights”, underscores the pair’s catalytic youthful impetuousness.

Opening night nerves were evident in a rather stiff few first minutes and some timing issues, but soon settled. Tamara Rojo (artistic director and principal dancer of English National Ballet) was sublime as Juliet. She became that headstrong, impetuous girl, falling head over heels in love for the first time. Light as a feather, with a glorious back, floating arms and arched feet that propelled her across the stage with effortless abandonment, her performance was mesmeric. Even in that very long moment of absolute stillness, when Juliet, mind in a turmoil, sits at the end of her bed after the final departure of Paris, Rojo had the audience holding its breath in anticipation.

Matthew Lawrence as Romeo was a believable match for Rojo’s Juliet. He has an easy style; his ballroom solo, particularly, showed impeccable line and beautiful control. His partnering was effortless, with each pas de deux a clear expression of the development of the doomed relationship.

In addition to the three principal guest artists, other artists with impeccable credentials were engaged across the season to add crucial dramatic weight and an unquantifiable depth of experience to the ballet, including the Australian Ballet’s Daniel Gaudiello, who perfectly captured the charming roguish character of Mercutio. Steven Heathcote, unrecognisable in full beard and wig, added that critically important gravitas as Lord Capulet and was a perfect foil to QB Rachael Walsh’s Lady Capulet, whose performance was a magnificent and fully fleshed characterisation.

Likewise, QB dancer Vito Bernasconi was equally convincing as the pugnacious Tybalt and Sarah Thompson elegant and refined as the haughty Rosaline.  From the QB Artistic Staff Janette Mulligan made a caring, and refreshingly, a not too befuddled Nurse while Christian Tatchèv was an imposing Escalus, Prince of Verona.

However, full credit must go to the QB dancers who embraced the naturalism of the big company scenes with such conviction, particularly the sword fighting, and captured the beautifully fluid and stylised port de bras and epaulement so integral to much of this ballet.

This production of Romeo and Juliet has raised the bar significantly for the Queensland Ballet. Audiences will now be expecting so much more from the company. But with the depth of talent evidenced in this performance rising up through the ranks, I suspect they are well up for the challenge.

- Denise Richardson

Romeo and Juliet plays until 5 July.
Carlos Acosta Thurs July 3 and Sat July 5 (7.30pm)
Steven McRae Wed July 2 and Friday July 4.

For more photos from Romeo and Juliet head to our Tamara Rojo photo gallery.


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