St James Theatre, Wellington
Reviewed May 4
Romeo and Juliet, an iconic ballet, has the power to take the audience on an intensely affecting journey, and that it does in this newly commissioned Royal New Zealand Ballet production.
This is a period production, to Prokofiev's lushly romantic score, but one with contemporary choreographic flair, choreographed by Andrea Schermoly fresh from her residency with Louisville Ballet in the US (which is directed by Australian Robert Curran). It is great to see a young female choreographer interpret this time-worn tale of romance, and she takes some unexpected turns. Schermoly enlivens the tale with emboldened moves from Juliet (Katherine Minor) who, despite her graceful frame and gesture, carries much of the strength of the performance. The vibrancy of Juliet’s repertoire and character in this production rivals that of others, including the John Cranko version, recently performed by the Australian Ballet. Perhaps it is the intimacy and scale of a ballet company like RNZB that makes for success with the dramaturgy of this emotive ballet.
The curtains rise to reveal a moving set of glowing, grey masonry (lighting designer Jeremy Fern). Like an omen, foretelling the ruination to come, Friar John and Friar Laurence, played by Dane Head and Levi Teachout respectively, meander across the stage and out of sight for the carnival of a Verona morning to begin.
A key element to the impact of this production is the chemistry between the lovers. RNZB hired an Intimacy Director, Megan Adams, to work with the dancers, something recognised as an increasing priority in the ballet world. Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, as Romeo, and Minor radiate the exuberance of romance for the first act. Minor has a signature cherubic grin as she performs her jumps and turns, while Guillemot-Rodgerson leans into her with abandonment and adoration, lifting her effortlessly above him. They are love at first sight personified, and this contrasts starkly with the descent into heartbreak of the final scene.
Tenderness is balanced with humour as the terrific Montague trio - Mercutio (Kihiro Kusukami), Benvolio (Shaun James Kelly) and Romeo - embody the foolhardiness and glee of adolescence, caddishly sprinting across the stage, twirling the women and descending into a swashbuckling sword clash with the Capulets. Their dancing is playful, spirited and teeming with the promise of youth. The trio's footwork is punctilious. The harlots, danced by Macy Cook, Ana Gallardo Lobaina and Jennifer Ulloa, have a similar sauciness. Wild-haired in colourful bohemian dresses, the flicks of their legs and arms are perfectly timed to the horns and strings of the score. This alignment of the movement to music is a great strength of the production. The choreography is highly stylised to each character: Lord Capulet and Tybalt (Damani Campbell Williams and Laurynas Vėjalis respectively), move with unyielding swagger, while Kusukami with his buoyant jumps and turns shines with tomfoolery and charm.The fight choreography, led by Simon Manns, is skilled and exciting, but the stage seems overendowed with large set pieces and in some parts, feels truncated.
The balcony scene has the look of a Hollywood movie, with an expansive stage below the focal point of the balcony, where the lovers chase each other up and down the steps in the moonlike wash of lighting.
The costuming, designed by James Acheson, is sumptuous, from the claret velvet capes of the Capulets to Juliet’s bridal smock, which sparkles like a snowflake. The weightiness of the Capulets’ garments accentuates the heavy, mercilessness of their campaign to separate the star-crossed lovers. There are moments where this is brilliantly dramatised, such as when Lady Capulet, played by Sara Garbowski, pulls off her glittering headpiece, collapsing with grief over the dead body of Tybalt. The sum of costuming and music, dancing and gesture, is stunning.
There are few surprises in the plotline, yet the dancers, with their commitment to the story and score, immerse us anew in this exceptionally moving tale. The final scene, where Juliet lies heartbroken over the body of Romeo and the lights fade from holy white to black across the cold masonry of the crypt, could be a tableau from every romance ever conceived. Like an old photograph of a lover that we stuff away in a locket, lost through time and separation, this moment is haunting and beautiful, remaining in the memory long after the curtains close.
- LEILA LOIS
The tour of 'Romeo and Juliet' continues to Dunedin (20 May), Christchurch (25-27 May), Palmerston North (3 June) and Napier (9-10 June).