It’s certainly the season for ballet: Natalie Portman is already tipped as an Oscar favourite for her role as the tortured ballerina in Black Swan, Emily Blunt is starring as a ballerina falling for a politician in The Adjustment Bureau, and even Cheryl Cole is trading her harem pants for a tutu in her latest single Promise This. If you want to watch ballet at its best, however, the Birmingham Royal Ballet Company touring production of Kenneth Macmillan’s Romeo and Juliet is unmissable.
As the curtain rises there is no mistaking that we are in Verona; there are sixteenth century costumes and grand palace-like set pieces. In this ballet it is love at first dance for the two teenagers from feuding families. When Romeo, a Montague, meets Juliet, a Capulet, at a masked ball, they instantly fall in love and only recognise the other when it’s too late.
Sergei Prokofiev’s gripping and tragedy-tinged score accompanies the story of the two doomed lovers, taking us through the delights of first love to the heartbreak of their death. Highlights include the spectacular opening brawl that begins with two, four, and then suddenly up to ten pairs of sword fighters; the Dance of the Knights, better known as The Apprentice theme tune, as the backdrop of the ballroom dance; and the menacing dark chord progressions and soaring melodies accompanying Juliet’s suicide.
Everything about the production is polished, dramatic, and undeniably sensual. One of the most powerful images occurs in the ethereal moment when the lovers are at the balcony, never quite being able to hold hands, forever reaching out for each other. The image epitomises the play, which could do with being more erotically charged. Romeo and Juliet are a couple full not only of love, but lust, looking to get married soon so they can consummate their relationship.
Juliet, with this ballet, is the focal point, and Jenna Roberts does not disappoint as we constantly feel her psychological and emotional turmoil. One minor point is that it is difficult to see how she has progressed, as she does in the text, from being a girl into a young woman, as she remains forever angelic in her movements and virginal outfit. Mercutio is excitingly played by Alexander Campbell and is, as he should be, a crowd pleaser. He has a bravado that brings comedy to the performance in addition to sentimentality in his ill-fated death. And Michael O’Hare proves he is a fine performer, playing both Friar Lawrence and Lord Capulet.
A poignant and rich show from the start to finish.
Runs till 16 October, and tours the county until 20 October.
To see or not to see: * * * *