Lyric Theatre, QPAC, 28 August
When Queensland Ballet (QB) staged Kenneth MacMillan’s iconic Romeo and Juliet in 2014, it was a watershed moment for the company. Considered at the time by many to be a wildly ambitious undertaking, the pundits were proved wrong when the ballet opened to critical acclaim and broke box office records. International guest artists supported that production, but five years on Artistic Director Li Cunxin is convinced QB has come of age, with enough star-power of its own to carry this mammoth ballet.
And mammoth it is. Considered the definitive ballet interpretation of Shakespeare’s tragedy, MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet has a cast of over seventy, with lavish sets, and costumes of rich brocades and sweeping velvets (both designed by the late Paul Andrews), which evoke Renaissance grandeur. Underpinning it all is the magnificent Prokofiev score (brilliantly played opening night, at a rather cracking pace, by Queensland Symphony Orchestra under Guest Conductor Alondra de la Parra).
Two central pas de deux, which MacMillan choreographed first, anchor the ballet – the rest is constructed around them as a dramatically rich and visually opulent framework – the deep browns and ochres of the market scenes contrasting with the heraldic majesty of the ball scene.
On opening night it was the mesmerising balcony pas de deux that first transfixed the audience. In an inspired but surprising bit of casting, as principals usually dance opening nights, Soloist Mia Heathcote and Company Artist Patricio Revé danced the roles of Juliet and Romeo.
These dancers were perfectly matched in the roles. Heathcote captured the very essence of teenage love in her characterisation – passionate, impetuous and all consuming. She also showed a beautifully fluid quality to her movement, as well as a quickness and lightness, so essential to the role.
In the opening moments Revé played a less cock-sure Romeo than some other interpretations. He has a molten, panther-like quality, with a lovely line and easy ballon, and his partnering was effortless, each pas de deux showing a clear development in the doomed relationship. Subsequent performances will no doubt deepen the portrayal for both dancers in this partnership.
Crucial dramatic weight was added by the presence of seasoned professionals, particularly, in a nice father-daughter touch, Stephen Heathcote, reprising his role as Lord Capulet. His commanding presence was, again, the perfect foil to Rachael Walsh’s Lady Capulet. Walsh gave a masterful, multi-layered interpretation of the role. Her despair as she grieved over the body of Tybalt (Vito Bernasconi) was a scene-stealer.
Janette Mulligan, reprising the role of the caring Nurse, was as engaging as ever, while Matthew Lawrence, as Escalus, and Christian Tátchev, as Friar Lawrence, made brief but dramatically weighty appearances.
While MacMillan’s movement explores the classical canon with complex inventiveness and fluid spontaneity, it is also grounded in a natural, rawness that demands dramatic acumen of the dancers. And the company, as a whole, rose to the challenge.
Bernasconi was again convincing as the belligerent Tybalt, while Kohei Iwamato made a Puckish Mercutio. His pas de trois with Benvolio (Alexander Idaszak) and Romeo near the top of the ballet had timing issues however – perhaps because of the break-neck speed of the music.
Georgia Swan was a suitably haughty Rosaline, while Sophie Zoricic, Tamara Hanton, and Laura Hidalgo infused the roles of the Three Harlots with an unbridled energy and abandonment that enlivened the market scenes.
However, full credit must go again to the QB dancers who embraced the naturalism of the big company scenes with such conviction, particularly the sword fighting (expertly staged by Gary Harris), while capturing the beautifully stylised port de bras and epaulement so integral to much of this ballet.
There are four casts for this season, and other dancers will bring their own interpretations to the main roles, but needless to say, it seems the company has again set the bar high – and successfully jumped over it – with this production.
Footnote: Heathcote and Revé were promoted at opening night to Senior Soloist and Soloist respectively.
Romeo and Juliet plays until September 7.
Pictured top: Mia Heatcote as Juliet and Patricio Revé as Romeo. Photo: David Kelly.