I’m just back from seeing this ballet at Covent Garden. I might have mentioned that I was given a Friends’ Membership for Christmas, which means that I can book tickets a month earlier than the General Public (but not as early as the Premium Friends who’ve paid thousands for the privilege.) Being short, and not being able to go to theatre very often I do like a good view and the tickets are expensive though, curiously, far less expensive for the ballet than the opera. It’s made for an interesting year that’s burned a large hole in my pocket. I suppose, though, that theatre tickets in London are so expensive now that even a seat way, way up at a West End musical is £80 or so. Bearing that in mind, these were a bargain.
We wanted to take MsDD to see this production of Romeo and Juliet, having seen it ourselves some years ago. As you know she studied ballet from the age of 3 until this year when she was forced to stop due to conflicting demands on her time. I was looking forward to taking her, jaded, unimpressed teenager that she currently is, but had no idea how much this production would have evolved since I last saw it.
Perhaps I was just more in tune with it than before but it was less of a spectacle this time and more of a work of art that had something to say about the world. The body count was a high as a Bond film, with people being shamelessly slaughtered for no real reason but hubris.
In the fight scene near the beginning, for example, dead bodies were piled up in the middle of the stage. The fight was started for no particular reason between groups of aimless youths, which made me think of gang violence, and there was a huge contrast made between the demurely-dressed townswomen and the “harlots” with their spectacular dancing and expressive character acting.
I was deeply impressed with the fight scenes: I have no idea how one can choreograph and dance a mass sword fight, with sword clashes in time with the music, without becoming impaled or entangled or simply falling over the swords.
The characterisations were superb as well, with the knowing nurse and Friar Lawrence and the youngsters behaving as teenagers. I adored the acting of Juliet, on the cusp between childhood and adolescence, and her blossoming and maturing into a physically mature but emotionally unsure young woman before our eyes. I loved the stylised menace of the party scene, with its show-off pomp and posturing and the contrast with the naturalistic intimacy of the interactions between the teenage lovers.
Things that did not ring true for me were how long it took Juliet’s mates to cotton on to the fact that she was lying on her bed apparently lifeless. When they did realise, though, their synchronised step backwards in shock was a delight. I also wondered how, having been thrown about and dragged around by Romeo, Juliet in her coma woke only at the moment after Romeo had taken his poison.
I found it effective and affecting how the ballet drew itself in from an expansive commentary of grandeur and entitlement – including a “mum-off” reminiscent of many a modern school gate scene – right through to the spare and bleak end. This was particularly visible in the splendid costumes: reds and contrasting amber and green brocades and velvets at the beginning; through crystallised fondant colours in the scene midway through where Romeo projects his love for Juliet onto a passing wedding, until the end where Romeo and Juliet are dressed in simple white, and poor hard-done-by Paris is still clad in the outfit which he wore as Juliet’s approved suitor.
Yes, it’s always good to see productions more than once. There is so much going on that it’s easy to miss things, and you always notice new things happening as productions evolve. And what an expression of perfection, control and sheer skill and hard work. I do love the ballet.