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In my newly found interest in POB, I watched parts of their Romeo & Juliet by Nureyev online recently, was intrigued by the difference to the MacMillan version in the final death scene and wondered what else might differ. So I looked at the different casts in their current run of Nureyev’s R&J and, inspired by Yasmine Naghdi’s and Matthew Ball’s superb double debut at the ROH last autumn, I decided to go for the youngest and most junior lead couple – Léonore Baulac and Germain Louvet. Baulac joined POB in 2008 and has been Premier Danseur since 2016: Louvet joined in 2011, Sujet since 2015. They were initially shown as cover, featured in a public rehearsal in February when they were in the early stages of learning the choreography, and then received two performances plus a general rehearsal, and a further performance was added when another cast became unavailable. Friday’s performance, which was the one I went to, was their last.

The scenery in Nureyev’s Romeo & Juliet is sumptuous – shiny facades of palaces to both sides, laden market stalls. The story shows additional details, in particular in act 3 (the following not in chronological order) – why Romeo does not receive the letter (as the priest that is meant to deliver the letter to him is killed), how Romeo hears that Juliet has died (Benvolio stumbles upon the mourners and runs off to inform Romeo), a dream scene for Romeo in which he envisages the idyll of being together with Juliet, Juliet’s nightmare when death comes to meet her. Not only Juliet has a number of friends but also Romeo – not just Mercutio and Benvolio but also further friends. So more of everything in Nureyev’s ballet, and I found the scene a little overcrowded at times with lots of market traders/ citizens and all of Romeo’s friends, or all of Romeo’s and all of Juliet’s friends on stage at the same time. There were also a few elements that I found borderline vulgar in acting/ in costume.

Juliet is quickly becoming a strong, driving force in the relationship that is formed with Romeo, it is her who initiates the early kisses at the ball at the Capulet’s house, and this suits Léonore Baulac very well. Baulac displayed hugely expressive and impressive acting throughout. Her eyes turn in amazement when Paris asks her for a dance at the ball, her love of Romeo is overwhelming as is her desolation when Tybalt is killed by Romeo, her despair upon realising that Romeo has poisoned himself is excruciating – she simply is Juliet. Romeo has lots of solos throughout – pirouettes, balances in arabesque, jumps into arabesque, a round of double assemblées. Germain Louvet, to my amateur eyes, showed a beautiful line and acquitted himself well given the challenging choreography and acted very well, and I look forward to seeing more of him. The two leads displayed lots and lots of chemistry on stage, the love and passion was clearly there, from when they meet at the ball through to the end. Surprisingly, the PDD between the two had various solos/ the two dancing next to each other, following each other, with a few lifts here and there but – compared to what I remember from the MacMillan version - not very much overhead.

Mercutio’s death – Mercutio brilliantly played by Emmanuel Thibault – is more brutal as all his friends still think that he is playing with them and so make fun of him even when he is already dead. Benvolio shows a lot more personality than what I remember from the MacMillan version; he is the mediator, trying to prevent fighting in act 1 however then also getting angry at the Capulets. Sébastien Bertaud whom I much enjoyed in Tombe displayed vivid acting and beautiful dancing and interacted very well with Mercutio and Romeo. Paris, in the performances of MacMillan’s version that I’ve seen, can come across as likeable and genuinely trying to understand why Juliet doesn’t like him. In contrast, I found Paris in Nureyev’s version as unsympathetic as can be.

All in all, I prefer MacMillan’s version, and it has been an interesting experience to compare the two.

A thought for the dancers as the company has been in three concurrent different productions in recent weeks (Iolanta/ The Nutcracker just finished its run), and I guess the rehearsal process/ schedule will not always have been easy.

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Thank you for the report, Duck. It's a shame your interest was (presumably) too new-found for you to go and see ENB in the same production (it was created on London Festival Ballet) when they were touring it back in the autumn, then you'd have had an even better opportunity to compare and contrast!

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Indeed, I became interested in Nureyev's version in late February so missed the ENB tour last autumn.

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Hugo Marchand’s debut as Romeo on Sunday afternoon, and the reason why I extended my stay spontaneously when a ticket became available on Friday (the same for the mixed programme on Saturday, for which I finally got a ticket on Friday). Marchand is more the “lad about town”, dances his solos with a winning smile and is able to produce soft, silent landings. The energy between his Romeo and Dorothée Gilbert’s Julia (Gilbert first danced Julia in 2011) is different than for Baulac and Louvet on Friday – Gilbert’s Julia is less thunderstruck when she first sees him at the ball, she is less the driving force that Baulac was in the early stages of the relationship, and Marchand’s love for Juliet is catching fire more quickly. The audience applauded after just about every solo/ group dance and was rather enthusiastic at the curtain calls however the performance on Sunday moved me a lot less than the one on Friday.

I’ve been wondering why this is the case, and I think it is because I enjoyed in particular their acting more on their own than in their PDDs. Julia’s love for Romeo seemed more “happy love” whereas Baulac’s Juliet looked more “madly in love”. Romeo is gloriously happy, charming, smiling in his solos and when he is dancing with Mercutio and Benvolio however I didn’t really see that transferred into the balcony PDD. Julia’s despair at Tybalt’s death on Sunday seemed pure shock and hate/ anger with no look at Romeo whereas Baulac in that same scene was visibly torn between Tybalt’s death at the hands of Romeo and her love for Romeo. In the ensuing bedroom PDD, Baulac’s Juliet was full of tenderness and love for Romeo whereas Julia’s despair on Sunday seemed more in the form of isolation as “definitely not Paris, but not possible with Romeo either”, and so apart from a kiss, I couldn’t see much love from her for Romeo (nor from Romeo for her). Had I not known the story, I think I would have wondered following Tybalt’s death and this PDD whether she actually still loves him. And yet she does as her desolation at Romeo’s death clearly shows. Two different interpretations by the two couples, and comments on social media much praise Sunday’s performance. Maybe I was too much taken by the performance on Friday, or I simply missed some aspects that others saw on Sunday. On social media, Marchand is tipped to become the next Etoile. Marchand and Gilbert have three more performances in the current run, and it will be interesting to see how their performances develop.

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