The National Ballet of Canada pay a welcome visit to London’s Sadler’s Wells with a new production of Prokofiev’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’. A classic of most ballet companies, this new production features stunning choreography by Alexei Ratmansky, and was first seen in 2011. The joy of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ comes from the timeless story that so neatly adapts into new mediums without feeling forced. There can be no one coming to the piece who is unfamiliar with the basic story, and adaptation such as Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo + Juliet’ and Bernstein’s ‘West Side Story’ both show how successful adaptations can be. Prokoviev’s score is most remembered for the bold ‘Dance of the Knights’ and perfectly blends the action sequences with the suitably romantic passages which accompany the star cross lovers. Ratmansky’s choreography complements the score in every respect, finding bold characterisations in the music that are formed perfectly, from the mischievous sound of Malvolio to the aggressive spikes of Tybalt. Each character is firmly presented and is both unique and engaging in their own way.
What makes this performance stand out is the care and attention made to staging, and not just the choreography. Key dramatic moments are beautifully executed, using the vast Sadler’s Wells stage to draw focus where necessary and provide perspective in the larger scenes. One of the most beautiful passages was a transition that showed a frantic Juliet searching for Romeo after being banished to Mantua, and the pair were close enough to touch for just a second, before their world was physically divided again. This attention to detail in the overall staging showed pure imagination and thorough commitment to storytelling, the likes of which I haven’t seen in a ballet production for some time. This in turn made the final scenes so focused and tense that it was
The light and shades of Prokofiev’s score were certainly felt particularly during the larger scenes in the market square. Some impressive work from the corps helped lighten the mood of the tragedy, with much of the energy stemming from Piotr Stanczyk’s incredible Malvolio and Robert Stephen’s Benvolio. Through their teasing of Romeo and his infatuation with Rosalind, through to their moments of aggression again Tybalt, they trivilased the ‘ancient grudge’ making the conclusion all the more tragic.
Design wise Richard Hudson’s costumes could have been more divisive, as it was never clear on which side the masses were on. Unlike some productions, there was no clear attempt to differentiate the Montagues and the Capulets, instead the two houses mirrored each other in style offering no conclusive divide which fuelled the story further. His sets were effective and provided seamless transitions from the external to the internal worlds the characters were living, a theme that was echoed firmly in both the direction and choreography. Juliet remained locked away, adding to her angst and trepidation as she comes off her balcony in the famous scene making the transitions exciting and suitably claustrophobic.