As the Autumn 2015 run of the Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet run draws to a close, it is time to reflect on countless evenings and the occasional matinee of tragedy and death. I was ridiculous enough to go to many of this seasons Royal Ballet’s MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet dates (maybe not countless, probably more like eight), while Andre made it to two.
As I have never seen the ballet before except on DVD, I was so looking forward to it that I booked various tickets for different casts. Due to circumstances including friends with extra tickets, I managed to see just about every cast of Romeo and Juliet this season with the lamentable exception of Roberta Marquez/Nehemiah Kish, and Francesca Hayward/Matthew Golding; I feel so guilty but I just plain ran out of money.
I found it absolutely amazing that the same ballet could have so many brilliant different interpretations of the same characters, and that all of them were emotional and thrilling in their own way. Disclaimer; as always I am most definitely not a critic, and still relatively new to the world of ballet, so these will not be the most technical of recaps. Grab a beverage of choice and settle in, because this is a bit of a long read.
Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae -19 September 2015
This was my first official MacMillan Romeo and Juliet! I was seated in a box to the left, which is a mistake I will never make again as I missed out on a lot of good bits (the balcony pas de deux kiss, Mercetuio’s death, etc). Sarah Lamb played Juliet like an entitled ice princess in the beginning, seeming to go along with proceedings and not quite moved by Paris; accepting of what was expected from her as a daughter of the great Capulet family.
Steven McRae as Romeo and his mates (Alexander Campbell as Mercutio and Tristan Dyer as Benvolio) were amazingly well matched, which really showed during the flaw free masked dance before the ball. Alexander Campbell was the highlight of the evening for me, he was just absolutely perfect and his death scene was so conducted with so much gravitas. McRae was charming, and boyishly in love with Juliet. His solo when he danced for her during the ball in Act I was so earnest, it really stuck with me. I was determined not to cry at any point during this ballet, as I was sitting with my entire family and knew I would never hear the end of it, but even my mum got choked up during the final pas de deux in the crypt. Also Gary Avis was beyond words as Tybalt. He absolute commanded the stage whenever he was on it.
Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntigirov – 1 October 2015
Another outing for Sarah Lamb, who replaced an injured Natalia Osipova. Vadim was a very boyish Romeo. While I love his dancing, and the quality of lightness he brings to any role, I wasn’t really sold that Vadim’s interpretation of Romeo would kill anyone, even after he murdered Tybalt in Act II. It didn’t seem as fluid of a partnership as Sarah and Steven’s, but it was still very lovely. Thiago Soares was an exceptionally dark and brooding Tybalt. I didn’t feel that I connected with this performance as much as with Sarah and Steven’s but it is possible that is because I was sitting in the Lower Slips and much more removed from the action. However it’s probably not the best sign that I kept thinking of him as “Vadim Muntagirov” instead of “Romeo” throughout the ballet.
Iana Salenko and Steven McRae – 24 September 2015
Steven McRae again, with petite charming guest dancer Iana Salenko; a partnership that Pas De Blog fondly refers to as McRenko. Alexander Campbell and Tristan Dyer were back as Mercutio and Benvolio again, with Thomas Whitehead channeling a much more sinister Tybalt. Whitehead’s Tybalt had absolutely no regrets when he killed Mercutio, unlike the other interpretations I had seen so far. Alexander Campbell’s death scene, something that could be so painfully awkward due to its length, was perfectly horrific and tragic in all the right ways once again. You could hear a pin drop in the theatre after he collapsed. The chemistry between Salenko and McRae was sparkling, and I really enjoyed their last pas de deux in the beginning of Act III in the bedroom and felt their love. Salenko’s heartbreak was palpable when she discovered her Romeo dead in the crypt.
Yasmine Naghdi and Matthew Ball – 3 October
These two are probably going to be the definitive Romeo and Juliet for me and I will be so cross with Royal Ballet artistic director Kevin O’Hare if he doesn’t schedule them to dance this again. The look when they first saw each other at the ball was electric. The absolutely raw, tangible emotion they portrayed during this ballet…you believed them. Everything they did, every emotion they experienced was so real for them. Matthew Ball’s face when he realised he had to kill Tybalt after Mercutio’s death; the rage he projected through every blow of that sword fight. There were so many nuances that even as a newer ballet fan I picked up on, such as during their last (living) pas de deux in the beginning of Act III together, when Juliet becomes slightly hysterical about Romeo leaving her. The other Romeo’s I saw had grabbed her and shook her, as if telling her to snap out of it. Matthew gently cupped Yasmine’s face and looked deeply into her eyes. It was touchingly effective.
One of my favourite moments of the ballet regardless of the cast is when Juliet is sitting on the edge of her bed in Act III, contemplating her impossible situation and sitting completely still as the music builds (feet pointed, of course, as you do). Yasmine as Juliet managed to project every thought, and you could feel the moment when she made her choice to go find the friar and the renewed sense of hope she had. My heart broke for Juliet’s struggle with whether or not to take the poison as she flitted around the bedroom.
The last pas de deux in the crypt was absolutely tragic. The weeping in the audience started as soon as Romeo saw Juliet, killing poor Paris in his desperate attempt to get to her. Juliet’s silent scream as she realised her beloved Romeo was dead. It made for some hard viewing due to all the emotion on stage, and the fact that my contact lenses were slightly blurry at this point.
The rest of the cast was equally enjoyable. Nicol Edmonds was a beautiful partner to Yasmine Naghdi during the pas de deux between Paris and Juliet, and helped lend a real scope of tragedy to the event because as he was unfairly caught in the middle of an epic drama and paid for it with his life. Luca Acri’s Mercutio was quick footed and perfectly cheeky. Bennet Gartside’s Tybalt was my favourite of the run as well; more on him later.
It was doubly exciting because it was such a young and upcoming cast. Yasmine Naghdi, 23, is only a soloist and Matthew Ball, 21, was newly promoted this season to First Artist. They only had the one public performance, which was inexcusable as everyone else got at least two.
Lauren Cuthbertson and Federico Bonelli – 9 November, 17 November
I saw this performance twice due to a friend with an extra ticket, and both times it was exceptionally enjoyable. Having seen this one on DVD a few times, I was delighted that it had a similar cast to the DVD and also cast Bennet Gartside as Tybalt.
The chemistry between Federico and Lauren was fiery in this ballet. Their balcony pas de deux was executed with reckless abandon, and the most magical moment for me was when Lauren as Juliet leaps backwards into Romeo’s arms without a second glance; she is so certain of their love she doesn’t even have to look back to know that he will catch her.
Bennet Gartside’s Tybalt was one of the most fully fleshed out of the whole run, including Naghdi and Ball’s matinee. His Tybalt really was a three dimensional character, not a cliche bad guy who is there to ruin the love story. I really got the sense he was a man who cared deeply for his family and wanted to protect them, but also had a temper and enjoyed a drink (always a winning combination).
Mariana Nunez and Thiago Soares – 20 November
This was the darkest Romeo and Juliet of the run. I was not as absorbed in Act I as I usually had been, but I might have been experiencing Romeo and Juliet overload by this point. Both Thiago but especially Marianela really settled into their characters during Act II after a slightly shaky Act I, and Valentino Zucchetti stole the show with his death scene as Mercutio, it was absolutely fantastic. Those tears when he hugged his harlot (fabulous Helen Crawford) before he died…wonderful, so much feeling. Kristen McNally was a wonderful lead harlot as well. The corps de ballet seemed really on form.
Marianela played Juliet in Act III with levels of desperation I have never seen. She barely looked at her Romeo the entire time during the pas de deux, and seemed to give up their love as a lost cause then and there, as if she already knew once he left her she would never see him alive again.
Here are links to a few reviews of Matthew Golding and Francesca Hayward’s outing (The Guardian, Telegraph). I couldn’t find any links for Roberta and Nehemiah, but here is a review from a previous Romeo and Juliet Roberta Marquez has danced with the company (The FT).
A special mention to the wonderful corps de ballet, especially the angry market girls whose disdain of the harlots seemed to run bone deep and was often hilarious. This ballet wouldn’t be so effective without the members of the company being so committed to the wonderful characters that populate the story of Romeo and Juliet.