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BWW Review: ROMEO & JULIET, Birmingham Royal Ballet


The jewel in the crown of the Birmingham Royal Ballet's Shakespeare season (perhaps aside from David Bintley's new Tempest), this production of Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo & Juliet has been a hotly anticipated production for many months. Although many choreographers have tackled Prokoviev's delicious, sweeping score, few, if any, others have achieved the dramatic sublimity of MacMillan's work.

This is a production of significant grandeur, set off to perfection by Paul Andrew's designs. Every scene could have been plucked from the painting of an Old Master, with a rich palette of reds, oranges and greens. The Capulet ballroom is particularly impressive; the ensemble strike dramatic poses - all arched backs and exaggerated hand movements - perfectly aligned with an imposing backdrop of arches, as though the ballet is a High Renaissance painting come to life.

Romeo & Juliet is a tale of extreme contrasts, and Prokoviev's score reflects this at every turn. From the scintillating build of the Act 1 ballet scene, right through to the bold march at the Capulet's masked ball, the music is imperative to our understanding of the narrative. The Royal Ballet Sinfonia play exquisitely; I feel shivers down my spine as the high, haunting violins induced Juliet to drink her sleeping potion.

Jenna Roberts and Iain Mackay give exquisite, committed performances as our star-crossed lovers. Their hunger for one another is palpable, conveyed with powerful eye contact, limbs intertwined and being physically pulled together, as if by elastic. The famous balcony pas de deux does not disappoint, and is one of the highlights of the evening. Macmillan's choreography breaks the lovers apart, only to give way to wonderful soaring lifts which so clearly encompass the weightless joy of new love.

Jenna Roberts is utterly convincing as Juliet. We follow her development from a young girl, bright eyed and played with her nurse (the fabulous Marion Tait), to a women consumed by passion and taking control of her own life for the first time. Her stage presence is captivating, with beautiful, expressive eyes and excellent use of weight and pull to clearly convey every emotion. Even as she sits on her bed, deliberating her next move, Roberts' performance is completely absorbing. Her dancing is a pleasure to watch; she really appears to float on air with light footwork and a gorgeous yet controlled suppleness to her upper body.

Iain Mackay gives yet another sublime performance as Romeo, proving that he surely must be one of the best dramatic dancer-actors in the country. It is clear to see why Juliet is so infatuated with him; his cheeky smile, lively nature and obvious passion would endear him to any woman - expect from Rosaline!

Every single member of this exceptional company gives a dedicated performance, encouraging the audience to completely invest themselves in the story. Mathias Dingman and Yasuo Atsuji are delightful as Mercutio and Benvolio respectively, with lively performances and crisp, clean dancing. Tyrone Singleton is a wonderful Tybalt, who poses a real threat towards Romeo that is often lacking in other interpretations. The sword fighting scenes which feature most male members of the Birmingham Royal Ballet are unbelievably intricate and coordinated, with all dancers displaying such accuracy and discipline.

It is hard to imagine another ballet which could so capture the hearts and minds of the audience. By the time we arrive at the heart wrenching bedroom pas de deux, and Romeo must take his leave, the audience share Juliet's fierce desperation as she clings, kisses and cries simultaneously.

Iain Mackay and Jenna Roberts are so committed to their roles that they can barely smile when they first emerge to take a curtain call, which is testament to their absolute unswerving commitment to their characters. The audience have shared their heartbreak and joy, their pleasure and pain, all whilst swept away on a beautiful tide of music and awe-inspiring dance.

The Birmingham Royal Ballet's Romeo & Juliet is a uniquely exquisite and emotional experience; one that I will watch again, and again, and again.

Photo: Roy Smiljanic

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From This Author Emma Cann