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Birmingham Royal Ballet - Romeo and Juliet - Spring 2016


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Birmingham Royal Ballet opened Romeo and Juliet on Wednesday evening in Birmingham.  I was there for both performances yesterday - they were both wonderful!

 

While I collect my thoughts for some ramblings here is a gallery from Dance Europe for the Momoko/Joe cast we saw yesterday afternoon:

 

http://www.danceeurope.net/gallery/romeo-and-juliet-birmingham-royal-ballet

 

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I saw both performances of Romeo and Juliet on Thursday and it turned out to be a thrilling day!

 

On Thursday afternoon the cast was led by Joe Caley and Momoko Hirata (whom I think were both debutants) with Rory MacKay as a beautifully understated Tybalt - full of hidden menace.  James Barton just inhabited the role (as he always does) of Mercutio and William Bracewell was wonderful as Benvolio - well acted laddishness and such beautiful dancing to drool over.

 

Ana Albutashvili is always a dramatic dancer and I thought she was terrific as Lady Capulet.  Her grief at the death of Tybalt was almost frightening in its intensity.

 

Joe Caley is so boyish and threw himself into enjoying life as a lad about Verona, trying to persuade Rosaline to take him seriously.  He really suits the role of Romeo and you could see him fall headlong in love with Juliet and then was so heartbroken by the turn of events that led to the ultimate tragedy.  Momoko Hirata was sublime as Juliet - she was utterly believable as a 13 year old, excited at going to her first grown-up party and actually quite attracted to the Paris of Fergus Campbell (who gave a lovely nuanced performance).  You could see at the ball that initially she was excited and flattered to have attracted the attention of 2 personable young men and then as her attraction to Romeo grew.  The balcony pdd was scintillating and the bedroom pdd was heartbreaking.  Momoko and Jo were utterly believable together.

 

It really was a fantastic performance and I am looking forward to seeing them again at the Lowry.

 

And so to the evening led by Nao (Wonder Woman) Sakuma and Chi Cao.  Valentin Olovyanikov was a commanding Tybalt up for a fight from the off.  Jonathan Caguoia was absolutely on fire as Benvolio - a brilliant performance.  Tau-Chao Chou gave a virtuoso performance as Mercutio.  Tom Rogers was very much a Paris making a political match - he knew he was a good catch for the Capulets - another great interpretation from him.

 

Yijing Zhang is another very expressive dancer and I loved her Lady Capulet.  She was every inch the haughty lady but in Act 3 you could see she was torn between duty and protecting her daughter.  She did some tiny little gestures, smoothing her daughter's hair for example, where you could see her inner turmoil.  In the afternoon she had been a very naughty harlot indeed - what a great contrast in roles.

 

Nao and Chi were just sublime in their roles.  They gave nuanced, intelligent portrayals of these 2 young lovers and they were deeply moving.  They were dancing right at the top of their game too - all the steps were so clearly articulated but danced with such emotion.  Judging by the sobs all around me, I was not the only one moved to tears by their glorious performances.

 

Marion Tait was the Nurse at both performances; what can I say that I have not said before - we are privileged to watch her mastery of these character roles; she gives us a masterclass in how her roles should be performed every time she steps on stage.

 

What always impresses about BRB is how the whole company is involved in their roles, however fleeting they may be.  The harlots were superb at both performances and if you looked around the crowd scenes everyone was in character and involved in the action throughout.

 

As I said at the start - 2 brilliant performances on Thursday and I have also heard great reports of Jenna and Iain's cast too.

 

Although the company are not in London this Spring R&J can be seen at The Lowry, Sunderland, Nottingham and Plymouth.  Do try and see a performance or two.  It sounds like there are some great debuts coming up.

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 As I said at the start - 2 brilliant performances on Thursday and I have also heard great reports of Jenna and Iain's cast too.

 

Although the company are not in London this Spring R&J can be seen at The Lowry, Sunderland, Nottingham and Plymouth.  Do try and see a performance or two.  It sounds like there are some great debuts coming up.

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Sorry, I'bve yet to master the 'quote' function....

 

I wanted to quote the last bit of Janet"s review to add:

 

Thanks for that wonderful review. Can't wait to see 2 shows today and the 5 more I seem to have booked in Salford & Nottingham. Somewhat excessive maybe, but BRB are really on such astoundingly good form that no performance I've had the privilege to see in the last few years has been anything other than a joy to watch and something to treasure.

 

 

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Sorry, I'bve yet to master the 'quote' function....

 

Don't worry - you're not the only one, and it may be your browser that's at fault.  At present, this one won't let me quote people properly (hence the cobbled-together version) and on another browser I can quote but I can't format :(

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So, now I’ve come down from the emotional turmoil of Saturday, I will post a few thoughts about the 2 performances of Romeo and Juliet I saw. Excuse if I ramble and gush but in my view, BRB triumphs again after the simply wonderful Ashton double bill the previous week! 

 

Saturday matinee was led by Jenna Roberts and Iain Mackay as the star crossed lovers. Both were utterly convincing in their respective roles and so intense from the moment they met in the ballroom scene. Stunningly beautiful dancing and acting throughout. Fine supporting cast with one utter standout for me, which was Tyrone Singleton as Tybalt. Terrifyingly terrific in every way, seething menace personified (in this role I hasten to add)!! It’s such a powerful moment when Tybalt enters on the upper level above the market place in Act 2; he’s drinking, then gets both his swords out and swaggers down the stairs, clearly going to pick a fight. It sent shivers down my spine.

Iain Mackay’s Romeo was brilliantly supported by Mathias Dingman as Mercutio and Yasuo Atsuji as Benvolio. They danced very well as a trio, well matched, great acting as ‘the lads’ about town. The trio of harlots was led by Celine Gittens in sparkling form.  Samara Downs was an ice cold Lady Capulet and Marion Tate as the nurse was pure genius character acting. Finally, a special mention for Steven Monteith with his sweetly sensitive and gently romantic portrayal of Paris. This was his last performance with BRB before retiring, according to BRB’s Facebook page. All good wishes to him for the future.

 

Then to the evening performance. I was flagging somewhat before curtain up and found it quite a marathon to see 2 R&J’s back to back, but the sheer intensity of the performance kept me gripped to the emotional end. R & J were Joseph Caley and Momoko Hirata, Rory Mackay as Tybalt, James Barton as Mercutio and William Bracewell as Benvolio. Again, dazzling performances throughout, I was transported to the world of old Verona. Caley is a perfect Romeo, with his youthful ardour shining through. James Barton sparkles with fun as Mercutio until his fateful death scene, which is so tragic to watch. As for Momoko, that was astonishingly moving; an absolutely sublime performance. She has the perfect fragility and youthful innocence for Juliet. Utterly fabulous Juliet, one of the best I have ever seen, brava to her.

 

I can’t wait to see more performances. Next one is Lowry next Thurs matinee, then lots in Nottingham! The orchestra conducted by Koen Kessels were fantastic, and this version for BRB seems to be taken at quite a quick pace. I'm sure when I’ve seen it at ROH it’s much slower! It certainly makes for some gripping action, especially the very unnerving sword fights! Also the designs by Paul Andrews are gorgeous – the costumes seem more colourful than the Geordiadis ones for RB. However, I'm not sure about the costumes for the mandolin 6 dancers – erm, sort of fluffy, tasselled outfits???  :rolleyes:

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Tonight at The Lowry we were treated to a truly exceptional performance of Romeo and Juliet led by Momoko Hirata and Joe Caley.  My heart bled for them tonight.  The whole cast was outstanding and I felt privileged to have been in the audience.

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I attended opening night at the Lowry with Momoka Hirata and Joseph Caley as the leads.

 

Of course as Janet reported, the performance was exceptional quality, the production magnificent. I could clearly see this. I just couldn't feel it.

 

Several reasons perhaps. I'm not sure how much the Romeo and Juliet story interests me these days, perhaps it's familiarity breeding contempt. I'm also not (yet) a great admirer of neoclassical narrative ballets. I was very far back in the theatre where perhaps the power of the emotion in the dancing doesn't transmit. I'm still getting to grips with the music which is quite new to me (saw the ENB-Nureyev version last year for the first time). Maybe I was just in a bad mood. 

 

The long processional and sword fighting scenes, and those with large ensembles are not to my taste and to be honest I don't foresee this changing.

 

Some very interesting and entertaining small ensemble pieces and solos throughout the ballet (e.g Mercutio's dance of distraction). I will admit I loved the music and the drama of the aftermath of Tybalt's death at the end of Act I. I also enjoy the more lyrical style of dancing in MacMillian's creation than Nureyev's choreography; however, the ENB-Nureyev performance I saw did seem more successful dramatically.

 

So a little disappointed (perhaps also in myself for failing to appreciate it). But I'd try it again. I remember when I saw Coppelia for the first time I wasn't too impressed, then last year I saw BRB perform it, it was my dance highlight of the year. 

Edited by northstar
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Don't worry Northstar I can't take to R&J it is my least favourite ballet. I think it's too darkly lit a lot of the time and I find it all a bit twee. I really did not like ENBs Nureyev version as the choreography was very messy. Of all the ones I have seen BRB's is the one I can "tolerate" most ..can't cover class hey?

Edited by Don Q Fan
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There are several things that I think could be done to improve the MacMillan R&J. As Northstar hinted, the ballet is too slow. When Juliette first walks away from Romeo in the balcony pdd, she should just keep going. Mercutio should just cark it rather than writhing around for ever. The same can be said for Tybalt and Lady Capulet, although in the recent performances that I saw Lady C didn't seem to roll around as much. There are some other bits that need speeding up too.

 

When I was watching in Brum, I thought of a new ending. After Romeo takes the poison and dies, Juliette wakes up, sees Romeo dead and so stabs herself. I think at this point, Romeo should wake up, having drunk the same potion as Juliette, so that he has to kill himself all over again (without the rolling around on the floor).

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I think the issue here is that most choreographers really respect Prokofiev's wonderful score and therefore don't want to mess with it too much, if at all. So, when the score makes Mercutio's death almost comically long (we all know that death or at least unconsciousness would be immediate if one were stabbed in the torso with a blade that long...heck, it even comes out the other side in the MacMillan version! However, this is drama, not reality...) the choreographers have to fill the music. The same with the crowd scenes. On the other hand, I think the balcony scene is just right and, when beautifully danced, could watch it over and over again.

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I am extremely tardy with my review of the opening night in Birmingham but I have felt more embolden now that a number of fellow posters have confessed that they are not huge fans of the ballet.  I have seen R&J a lot over the years, I remember one week when I saw it at the Opera House 5 nights on the trot. Oh the follies of youth.  However I cannot whinge too much because my first Romeo was Baryshnikov dancing with my first great heroine, Lesley Collier.  Having said all of that I do find it very long and repeated viewings just make it seem even longer.

 

Anyway, I digress.  The opening night in Birmingham was excellent and the quality of the individual performances went right through the supporting cast. Iain Mackay and Jenna Roberts were a pair of dreams as the lead and I have nothing but praise for Mathias Dingman as Mercutio.  Special mention must also be given for Michael O'Hare and Samara Downs and Lord and Lady Capulet.  The Harlots were great, Marion Tait gave her usual tip top performance, this time as the nurse.  The corps seem to be having the time of their lives and they were really throwing everything into it.  I must concede that is becoming increasingly rare now to see a performance with so many of the company involved as the casts for ballets, even full length ones, seem to be getting smaller.

 

Having seen the RB perform the ballet (admittedly not for about 20 years now) there is one area where I feel the BRB production leaves it standing and that is in the real importance of Tybalt as a character.  When this production was first premiered in the early 90s Peter Ottavanger and Evan Williams who were alternating in the role made a real feature of the role and so Tybalt and Mercutio were valid foils for each other.  

 

I must confess to a personal preference for Tyrone Singleton in anything but this was one of the roles he was just born to dance.  He was dangerous, insidious and absolutely magnetic to watch.  When I say that I left after the second at this is absolutely no reflection on Iain and Jenna.  Indeed, everything I heard about them afterwards made me think I had really lost out.  Nor must it be conferred that Tyrone had been killed so I lost interest. Neither of these was a significant issue.  I left for personal reasons linked entirely to getting home.  May be I should have tried a bit harder but there you go.

 

Having indicated that the orchestra was less than perfect for the previous week with the Ashton Double Bill I would say that the performance under Koen Kessels for R&J was pretty damn near flawless.

 

I would also like to redress something else I wrote about the Ashton Double Bill.  I watched that with my sister and we both agreed with my assessment that Nao Sakuma as Titania was very good but dull.  However, my sister saw her as Juliet on the second night and she absolutely raved about her.  She said she was 'delightful' and that her acting was very involving.  I am more than pleased to be able to show appreciation for someone who has been such a shining beacon of the company for 25 years now.

 

All in all the two weeks in Birmingham may be regarded as total triumphs.  I will just finish with my usual peeve that so few of the national ballet critics bothered to attend either programme.  Frankly it was their loss, not least considering that there were acres of coverage of 'Strapless' which were less than enthusiastic.  Given that the average reader has far more chance of seeing R&J on tour than they do of seeing a triple bill at the Opera House and that there are some very interesting debuts coming up I take the view again that it is the critics' loss, not that of the audiences.

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Soap stars went to the performance on Wednesday night, although I didn't see them:

 

http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/showbiz-news/coronation-street-emmerdale-hollyoaks-lowry-10987794

 

I have to say that this is not my favourite production of R&J by any means.  I have, however, enjoyed the wonderful performances I have seen over the years.  Weather permitting, I am back at the Lowry tonight and all day tomorrow.

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.

All in all the two weeks in Birmingham may be regarded as total triumphs.  I will just finish with my usual peeve that so few of the national ballet critics bothered to attend either programme.  Frankly it was their loss, not least considering that there were acres of coverage of 'Strapless' which were less than enthusiastic.  Given that the average reader has far more chance of seeing R&J on tour than they do of seeing a triple bill at the Opera House and that there are some very interesting debuts coming up I take the view again that it is the critics' loss, not that of the audiences.

 

Absolutely agree: it is a disgrace. In the light of that omission, it is good that we have had some really substantive contributions on here and that has helped one to reflect on one's own experience of the performances.

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The Prokofiev score of Romeo and Juliet as we know it today was created to accommodate the needs of Lavrovsky who was the first choreographer to use it to make a ballet. It will remain in copyright until 2023 so there is no possibility of cutting or re-ordering it without the agreement of the copyright holder until then.

 

I have seen at least nine ballets made to the score.I like some more than I like others. I would happily see MacMillan's version rested for at least five years but I recognise that it is not likely to happen. Its great strength lies in the fact that it can be danced as dance drama or classical ballet and anywhere between these two extremes. Now there are sections in it which are less than exciting.The act two market scenes could do with pruning.But we need to recognise that much of what appears to be choreographic padding in act 2 is there for a very important reason.It gives Romeo a breather. The ballet may be called Romeo and Juliet but it is Romeo who has the greatest dance demands made on him. Juliet gets let off very lightly in comparison. As far as Mercutio's death scene is concerned, like Ashton making a ballet based on a Shakespeare play,MacMillan gives choreographic life to some of the lines in the play. In this scene MacMillan shows us some of Mercutio's final speech including his curse on the Montagues and Capulets. Perhaps he should not have bothered. Cranko does not do anything similar in his version but he was making a ballet for a very different audience.

 

The score should be out of copyright in 2023. I wonder what will happen then? Personally I hope that the next really successful narrative work to be created is not another version of Romeo and Juliet but something completely different. Having said that there are two versions of Romeo and Juliet that I would like to see. One is by Ashton which uses the score differently from the standard choreographic retelling of the story. The other version is Tudor's Romeo and Juliet which uses a completely different score. The problem with the Tudor version is that the original designs have to be used and I understand that would be very costly to reproduce them. The short sections that I have seen of it are intriguing.

 

I think that BRB's performances of Romeo and Juliet have a freshness to them which is often lacking in Covent Garden performances but then BRB does not revive it once every three years. As far as Covent Garden is concerned every female principal dancer wants to give the audience her Juliet and most do so. That combined with the influence that The rights holder seems to exercise makes regular revivals at Covent Garden inevitable.

Edited by FLOSS
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P.s. I will always be eternally grateful to Peter Schaufuss that he gave me the chance to see Ashton's Romeo and Juliets at a time when the choreography could still be revised by him personally. What a real shame that ENB and the political struggles within the company effectively ignored it and the details Ashton stressed as important.

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Two Pigeons I wholeheartedly agree with your comments about the ENB revival of Ashton's Romeo and Juliet. During Eagling's directorship the ENB board rejected his suggestion that the Ashton version should be staged saying that the company had no need of another version because it had the Nureyev Romeo and Juliet. I seem to recall that when the Nureyev version was revived shortly afterwards several critics suggested that it had seen better days and needed to be replaced.

 

Tudor's Romeo and Juliet is indeed danced to music by Delius from various sources orchestrated by Antol Dorati. It had Botticelli inspired designs by Eugene Berman which are part of the reason why revival is a problem. As I understand it ABT management have expressed the view that a revival would be too time consuming for the company and far too costly as the Berman designs have to be used. There is some information about the ballet on the Antony Tudor Trust website and a short clip on a DVD with the title Antony Tudor which was made for Swedish television.

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As always, fantastic to hear from other forum users and their extensive knowledge and experience of Romeo and Juliet going back decades. I've been attending ballet for 17-odd years and I thought I was building up a reasonably informed view, but I can see I'm only just beginning ! As Capybara states it really does help one to reflect on one's own experiences.

 

I am loathe to criticise the BRB Romeo and Juliet too much because despite my issues with the piece described above, it was still a privilege to experience this part of the ballet canon, and an evening spent excellently. It was my first live MacMillan ballet so a valuable experience for me. But as Trog rightly inferred, I cannot deny it felt slow to me in places.

 

Don Q Fan I think I know what you mean by 'twee'. Of course, in some ways, this tragic portentious tale it's the antithesis of twee-ness. But I think something about the endless recycling of the R&J story in various forms (including cinema) reduces the original power of the work leaving a sense of hackneyed sentimentality or melodrama, which is difficult for any interpretation to overcome. 

 

Two Pigeons and Capybara I too am indignant at the disinterest of the national critics to the performances outside London. I have become even more conscious of this during ENB's touring since Rojo's directorship. It seems extraordinary when international stars like Tamara Rojo or Alina Cojocaru open a production in Liverpool or Manchester, it is ignored by the national press. But in some ways, this makes the sense of privilege in seeing these performances in the provinces even sweeter.

 

Anway to return closer to topic, I also wanted to express my admiration to the delicate perfection of HIrata's technique and physique in her performance as Juliet. Her port de bras was exceptional to my eyes, reminiscent of a quality I've only seen in Cojocaru. She now joins the list of names that I will look out for when booking performances in future.  

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I have just read Rupert Christiansen's review of Jenna Roberts and Iain Mackay performing R&J in Birmingham. I am sorry to admit I have even seen the Mail on Sunday and even more sorry to see him give the performance two stars, deriding pretty much everyone except Marion Tait and the harlots. He ends by saying the BRB need to wake up as they can do better than this.

 

I take it he attended a special performance which every single one of the rest of us missed.

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I cannot find it on line.  Anyway, the edited 'highlights' are as follows:-

 

Under the headline 'wherefore are thou Romance?', he likes the designs but says 'if only the dancers inhabited them here with more imagination'.  He describes it as 'altogether a bland and routine affair'........'never touches the beating heart of the drama'.  'a major cause of the low voltage was that neither Iain Mackay or Jenna Roberts projected sufficiently assertive characterisations of the title roles'.  He says Iain was no more than a steady sort of average lad and Jenna was too insipid to succumb to a grand passion.  Their first pas de deux 'never caught fire - no sense of transgression, liberation or ecstasy, no intimacy of rapport.  All we saw were two competent dancers doing a decent job with some tricky steps'.

 

If you want more I can give you more...........................................

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..........................'But elsewhere in this cast one was hard pushed to spot anything more than competence: Mathias Dingman made a puckish, cheerful Mercutio without any dangerous edge, while Tyrone Singleton looked bored and disengaged rather than somoulderingly vengeful.' 

 

******************at this point I had to reach for my blood pressure medication*******************************

 

He describes the corps as 'seemed to move by numbers, their energy levels blow normal.'

 

Earlier in the article he described the production as 'lacklustre; it looks flung together, slapdash, and the coarse playing of Prokofiev;s marvellous scroe under Koen Kessels doesn't help matters either'.

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Now, this is all just not fair.  I know I am a fan of BRB but I am not someone who will ignore their weaker performances (I was very critical of the second cast of In the Upper Room last year), I am not a huge fan of R&J generally and I have had issues with Koen Kessels but, I repeat, was Christiansen at the same performance I was?  The literal answer may be no, I was there on Wednesday, he was on there on Saturday at the matinee.  However, unless a company wide attack of food poisoning or ennui hit them, and the orchestra, this is just not the cast or standard of performance I saw.

 

It is not for me to say so but I would recommend that the BRB hierarchy decline to offer Mr Christiansen any more press tickets if this is the response.  This review is so unjust I think I need to have a lie down now or watch Happy Valley.  It will probably upset me a lot less.

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