A Cold, Empty Trip to Verona

Romeo & Juliet, Royal Opera House, January 19th, 2012

Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet has become somewhat of a calling card for The Royal Ballet; after The Sleeping Beauty it arguably the company’s most recognisable work. For Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta, it is a ballet that has done much in advancing their careers and establishing them as internationally respected ballet stars, both individually and as a principal couple. The evidence from this performance suggests that both the lead dancer’s performances and the company as a whole need a shake-up if this production is to avoid the ballet scrap-heap.

The sold-out house is a clear indication of the esteem in which both the ballet and the Acosta/Rojo partnership are held and while there were several glorious moments in this work, such as the dance of Juliet’s friends and a wonderful Mandolin dance, there is simply not enough to justify the following. It was in the street scenes that the cracks of disrepair are starting to show: the harlots, wearing what look like fright-wigs, have lost their gritty edge and the general hustle-and-bustle drama around the edges is gone. While both of these are probably victims of under-rehearsal, the sword fighting seems to be suffering from the opposite; the metronomic meeting of the blades has become more of an exercise in counting completely lacking spontaneity. These smaller elements are suffering, presumably with a bulk of rehearsal resources being aimed at the flashier moments, and need some love and attention if the ballet is to retain any sense of theatrical coherence.

The legendary Rojo – Acosta pairing seems always to be a draw. Not only are they celebrated for their technical proficiency, but this ballet is generally accepted as the perfect vehicle for their acting prowess and on-stage chemistry. Whether it was an off-night or they’ve done so many that they are on autopilot at this stage, none of their famed passion was on display. The role is an ideal showcase for Acosta’s preternatural turning ability, and he duly obliged on this occasion, but his acting was flat – a boyish nonchalance coming across the footlights as complacency. Rojo’s technique is much feted, but sometimes, as was the case on this occasion, it stifles her; everything was so assured and studied that it lost any sense of movement and belied her character’s emotional whimsy.

While the principal couple failed to ignite any interest, the supporting roles provided far more interesting viewing. Christopher Saunders and Genesia Rosato as Lord and Lady Capulet performed with elegant gravitas and Rosato’s grievance over Tybalt’s body was devastating. Gary Avis and José Martín as Tybalt and Mercutio respectively, were proof that multiple visits to a role don’t need to induce stagnation.

Romeo and Juliet has been a cornerstone of the Royal Ballet since it premiered in 1965. What should become richer and more nuanced with time – and MacMillan’s choreography still has the capacity to be danced gloriously – has become lazy, with many of the performances being danced from memory, rather than with the engaged presence it deserves. The ballet needs to be curated in its entirety, with the roles of every size and visibility given adequate attention: otherwise it will become a pastiche, and a dusty vestige of MacMillan’s original masterpiece.

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2 thoughts on “A Cold, Empty Trip to Verona

  1. Chantal says:

    While this is based on only one performance, it’s worth noting that there are a number of debuts in the current R&J run, and new interpretations of the lead roles can hardly be described as stagnation!

    But similar complaints have been made about Manon, in that the whores’ dances etc have become too sugarcoated over time, and any original edge has long since been lost.

  2. Yes that’s very true re: debuts in the ballet – very nice to see some new blood getting in there, and it’s a pity I couldn’t get to see them.

    As for the rough-around-the-edges parts of MacMillan’s works, I think all is not lost – they just need to be rehearsed more carefully, with the purpose of the roles being elucidated.

    Thanks for your comment.

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