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Review: Romeo and Juliet

Review by Rachel Pommeyrol

Photo Stephen A’Court

Romeo and Juliet, perhaps Shakespeare’s best-known coupling, was never intended by the author to be danced, but rather to be declaimed. Nonetheless, the Royal New Zealand Ballet has accepted the challenge of this heart-touching tragedy and largely succeeded. Francesco Ventriglia, who ends his collaboration with the RNZB with this production, has proposed a choreography that matches Prokofiev’s poignant music, lyrically interpreted by Orchestra Wellington under Hamish McKeich direction.

The prototypical love story of two young people who cannot be together greatly benefits from some inventive stage sets that transport the audience to the Renaissance in Verona – its piazza, its ballroom, and its balcony. The costumes and architecture of James Acheson (who won Academy Awards for Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor, Stephen Frears’ Dangerous Liaisons, and Michael Hoffman’s Restoration) transport us to a colourful and sumptuous world in which Romeo and Juliet can live their love until the final breath.

The intensity of the two young lovers is felt viscerally, thanks to the striking artistic complicity between the dancers. Whenever Juliet (Madeleine Graham) is onstage, her every movement expresses the non-pronounced Shakespearian words. From the fear of her parents’ prohibition, to the physical intensity of her passion for Romeo, and her misery after he dies, Ms Graham’s entire body fully inhabits the story. Francesco Ventriglia has capitalized on her precocious talent by offering her several solo opportunities to capture the purity of Juliet’s innocence and naivety. Romeo (Joseph Skelton) also displays a great deal of controlled technique, with a lot of virile pirouettes, but he has yet to gain enough confidence in his work to be the complex Romeo which he will undoubtedly become by the end of this season.

Around the two leads, the supporting dancers were uniformly remarkable. The group choreography enabled Massimo Margaria as Mercutio and Filippo Valmorbida as Benevolio to make their characters real through a sense of self-assurance and technical proficiency. Paul Mathews (Tybalt) and Kohei Iwamoto (Paris) also revealed great competence, with the strong and smooth expression of their feelings gleaming whenever they danced. As Lady Capulet, Abigail Boyle gave another dimension to a relatively minor character, embodying steely disdain, despairing passion, and funereal grace with brio. This role proves her accomplishment not only as a dancer, but also as an actor of considerable range and ability in her various transformations.

Photo Stephen A’Court

Centuries later, the Shakespearian tragedy has taken on another sense, as interpreted by the RNZB. The opening night audience greeted this production enthusiastically. This excellent dramatic rendition will surely provide ample space for Ms Graham and Mr Skelton to develop their classical interpretation of Shakespeare’s tragedy in future.

Romeo and Juliet is at the St James Theatre in Wellington until 20 August.

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