English National Ballet
Romeo & Juliet
The Bristol Hippodrome
Wednesday 14th – Saturday 17th October 2015
Originally created by Nureyev in 1977 to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, English National Ballet has since performed it across the world to critical acclaim. The ballet’s remarkable music was composed by Prokofiev, who, following a nomadic early career, wrote the score in 1935 back in his native Soviet Russia, where large scale ballet was popular.
Sumptuous costumes and sets transport us to Renaissance Verona, its piazza bustling with market traders, street entertainers and the restless factions of the Capulet and Montague families. Amidst the grandeur of the Capulet’s ball, our star-crossed lovers meet, unleashing a fateful sequence of events, from the romantic night scene to their tragic double suicide and final embrace.
We’re near the front of the stalls, with the orchestra in clear view just a few feet away from us. The music strikes up and before the curtain has even risen, I feel privileged to be here. Whether you’re a fan of ballet or not, Prokofiev’s score is brilliant and English National Ballet Philharmonic’s delivery stunning. This is familiar music which my Mother used to play at us loudly when we were children
“Just listen to this part!”
She’d exclaim, her face the epitome of joy, as she helped conduct the orchestra, from the comfort of our lounge.
The stage is busy with bustling action, colourful costumes and marathon dance sequences. The two feuding families are easily distinguishable with Romeo and the Montagues wearing subtle greens and white while Juliet’s Capulets are dressed in a rich array of varying reds. 12 different dyes on the female dancers dresses, 40 dancers at the capulet ball, 550 point shoes and sixty performers in each show, all combine to set the scene for a visual feast.
Nureyev draws widely on cinématique techniques. In act III, instead of using mime, we see a flash forward to Juliet taking the fateful sleeping draft, as Friar Lawrence explains his well-meaning plan to help her be united with Romeo.
Dancing is clever, exhausting and beautiful to watch. Initially Romeo (Isaac Hernandez) is gay and flirtatious in his light-hearted courting of Rosaline, dancing gracefully.
His life takes a dramatic turn when he meets and instantly falls in love with Juliet, but as his passionate longing for a future with her slips farther from his grasp, Romeo’s growing sense of urgency is communicated through a punishing sequence of impressive choreography.
Juliet’s facial expressions are a window to her emotions, through which we experience her youthful joy, her love for Romeo, her frustration and her despair. Her dancing is mesmerising – elegant and energetic when she’s happy, contemporarily jerky to reflect periods of inner turmoil and as bendy and malleable as a rag doll during her drug induced coma, during which she’s lifted and manipulated by her heartbroken (and impressively strong) Romeo who believes her dead. Alina Cojocaru is so convincing that we’re shocked to learn that this is her debut in this role, as it is for Isaac Hernandez (Romeo) and Cesar Corrales (Mercurio).
As you would expect at this level, there’s no weak link. The professionalism of all the dancers combines to produce a superb performance.
My eleven year old is quite familiar with the plot of Romeo and Juliet, which is helpful, considering ballet’s complete lack of dialogue! The story is conveyed well through music, dance and acting but we find a grasp of the storyline beforehand makes it easier to follow and more enjoyable.
There’s plenty of colour, fast paced action and athletic displays and I’m sure that any of my boys would enjoy the excitement of the fast paced conflict sequences, with an impressive 30 sword clashes during the fight between Romeo and Tybalt alone.
Including 20 and 15 minute intervals, between the three acts, the ballet runs for almost three hours, so it’s a long time for any child to sit still. That said, the eleven year old enjoys it and only fidgets a little towards the end.
I would be very happy to bring any of the boys to watch this performance. My only concerns would be that without adequate prior knowledge, they may struggle to follow the story and that they might find it a little long.
English National Ballet has suggested we attend their “My First Ballet” performances, which are specially created to make classical ballet accessible and enjoyable to children from the age of three upwards and I can’t wait for the opportunity to bring all three of the boys to My First Ballet: Sleeping Beauty which comes to Bristol next spring. (Follow the hashtag #ENBMyFirst for more details of ballet for little ones)
We find the atmospheric lighting in some of the scenes on opening night, too dark, particularly during act three. I’m really struggling to make out facial expressions and my short sighted son who’s already using opera glasses over his contact lenses, can see very little. He can’t make out who’s who, and there are no voices to guide him. I imagine the low visibility may be exacerbated by the contrast of the gloomy stage against ambient light, which is brighter than usual as the orchestra is at ground level rather than in the pit. I hope the lighting will be adjusted, as, however artistic it may be, the dancers’ faces are so amazingly expressive, it’s a shame if we can’t see them clearly.
Apart from my technical gripe, I can only say glowingly good things about this Romeo and Juliet ballet. I adore Nureyev’s choreography and Prokofiev’s dramatic, passionate score. The set and costumes are rich and varied and I’m in awe of the time and dedication invested by these talented dancers and musicians to produce a performance of this quality. Yes, I know I sound a bit gushing but I do feel completely privileged to have been invited to a show of this calibre.
If ever a performance deserves a standing ovation, this is it. Most highly recommended,
After Romeo & Juliet leaves Bristol, the tour will take in Milton Keynes Theatre, The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton and Palace Theatre, Manchester.
Facts About Romeo & Juliet Ballet You Probably Didn’t Know You Needed to Know!
- Premiered at the London Coliseum on 2 June 1977.
- Since then it has been performed by English National Ballet 373 times.
- Known for its intense choreography, the balcony pas de deux lasts around 7 minutes. It has 5 kisses, over 8 coupes-jetes and 24 arabesques for each dancer, and an impressive 22 lifts.
- The bedroom pas de deux in Act III lasts around 6 minutes. In that time, Romeo has to lift Juliet off the floor 18 times – that’s once every 20 seconds.
- The fight scene between Tybalt and Romeo lasts just over 90 seconds. In that time, their weapons clash over 30 times.
- The brawl in Act I features over 28 dancers.
- During the Capulet ball, there are nearly 40 people on stage.
- After he meets Juliet, Romeo performs a short solo, travelling around the stage and doing over 15 intricate steps and jumps in less than 20 seconds.
- Famous Nureyev Juliet’s include Lynn Seymour, Daria Klimentova, Agnes Oaks, Monique Louidere (Paris Opera Ballet), Carla Fracci (La Scala) and Sylvie Guillem (Paris pera Ballet).
For further information about English National Ballet and to book tickets visit www.ballet.org.uk. Please note performance details are subject to change.
ENGLISH NATIONAL BALLET – ROMEO & JULIET
Wednesday 14th – Saturday 17th October
Evenings at 7.30 pm
Matinees on Thu & Sat at 2.30 pm
Tickets: from £11.90
Concessions available at certain performances
Enjoyed our Romeo and Juliet review ? Then why not check out other show reviews on Practically Perfect Mums?
DISCLOSURE: WE RECEIVED TICKETS FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS REVIEW. ALL OPINIONS ARE MY/OUR OWN.