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Ian Macmillan

Royal Ballet of Flanders - Romeo & Juliet (Samodurov)

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Tonight, the Royal Ballet of Flanders opens a run of a new Romeo & Juliet, commissioned by Director Assis Carreiro from former RB Principal, Slava Samodurov, using the Prokofiev score.  It opens in Gent then moves to Antwerp where, all being well, I hope to catch the final Matinee performance on 1 March.  There is a link to the English-language version of the company website here:

 

http://www.balletvlaanderen.be/?page_id=4144〈=en〈=en

 

I see that there are to be 3 sets of Lead castings - one of them from the junior ranks of the company, and it is that which is likely to take me across the Channel.

 

In terms of relative size, RBF sits between the large companies (eg: Bolshoi, RB, ENB) with large R&J productions and the very small-scale version made upon Bern:Ballett by Cathy Marston in 2009, so I'll be interested to se how Samodurov's version works out.  I'm hoping that we might have some Forum members over the Channel who may see it and, if we do, I encourage them to offer an opinion here.

 

 

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The Royal Ballet of Flanders closed its run of Slava Samodurov's Romeo and Juliet last night, and I'm delighted to say that a somewhat rushed trip to Antwerp was well worth it for the Matinee performance that I saw yesterday afternoon.  It is an intelligently wrought production, most elegantly staged, and a worthy addition to the list of full-length productions based on the Prokofiev score, given a stirring performance by the Flemish Symphony Orchestra under Benjamin Pope.  I hope to comment at greater length before too long, but I must immediately commend the two young leads - Michael Burton, in his first months with the company, and Demi-Soloist Cristina Casa - on a partnership that belied the short time they had to rehearse together.  They gave a confident and trusting performance that suggested a much longer time together and, with so many junior colleagues in most named roles, all concerned amply repaid the confidence that Director Assis Carreiro must have felt in casting them.  It truly suggests that the company has strength in depth.

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ROYAL BALLET OF FLANDERS, “ROMEO AND JULIET”
STADSSCHOUWBURG, ANTWERP.  MATINEE, SATURDAY 1 MARCH 2014

 

“Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona where we lay our scene” – the opening of the Prologue to Shakespeare’s tale of the “pair of star-crossed lovers.”  By contrast, in his newly commissioned, neoclassical and eye-catching version for the Royal Ballet of Flanders, former Royal Ballet Principal Slava Samodurov has come full circle for he opens with a Ballet company arriving at the Globe Theatre to rehearse a performance of the story.  The distinctive background (by Anthony MacIlwaine) is a curved, red, three-storey structure of galleries that serves variously as street background with a washline strung across; as the Capulet ballroom when decked with banners; and as a wall to Juliet’s bedroom when a large curtain runs around it.

 

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(Staging Model.  Photo: Sien Josephine, Courtesy Royal Ballet of Flanders)

 

 

A dancer enters pushing a rack of costumes – for this performance, he’s Michael Burton, who joined the Corps at RBF last summer after two years in Zurich post-Royal Ballet School.  He chooses a top that will identify many of the Montague faction and becomes Romeo.  His Corps friend Toshiro Abbley follows to become Mercutio and the company gathers for Class using Prokofiev’s familiar street scene music for Act 1 in a series of fast-flowing, elegant dances that identify key characters.  Benvolio (Ion Aguirretxe, also from the Corps) emerges and the three lads caper and mess about – all classical steps, but very ‘today’ in their laddishness as they encounter the three classy Harlots or Straatmiesjes (Nini De Vet, Virginia Hendricksen, Nicola Wills.  As matters progress, there will be no bad hair days for these elegantly-coiffed sirens!)  Class merges naturally into the familiar story when the Ballet Master brings in foils for the fight scene.  A Tybalt (Sebastien Tassin, again from the Corps) and the rival factions emerge clearly and the story follows its familiar course.  (The Class motif reappears at the start of Act 2, and works there just as well.)   

 

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          Cristina Casa & Michael Burton

(Photo: Sien Josephine; Courtesy Royal Ballet of Flanders)

 

Juliet (Demi-Soloist Cristina Casa) was introduced with her Nurse (Soloist, Maria Seletskaja) and was all one could want in the role.  She revealed the lightness of an innocent fun-loving young girl, initially delighted at the match with Paris that her parents proposed but later, after the fateful meeting with Romeo, she erupted in passion and heedless determination.  The subsequent Balcony and Bedroom scenes revealed a confident, understanding partnership that carried the narrative forward in a totally convincing manner to its climax in the crypt.  I understand that rehearsals had begun with another Juliet until an injury intervened, and both young dancers are to be congratulated on their achievement in a relatively short time.  Slava Samodurov is quoted as having said: “I do not want Romeo and Juliet to be lyrical.  I want wild temper from both of them ….. Jellyfish don’t stab themselves.”  I’d say that Michael and Cristina delivered on that.  They had been given three performances during the run that ended later on Saturday night, and the audience reaction that afternoon suggested that Director Assis Carreiro’s confidence in them had been well-placed.   

 

 

However, not only were the solos, pas-de-deux and trios a success, for Mr Samodurov also handled group movement exceedingly well.  The full-cast Class numbers are excellent, but I must highlight two other examples. First, a slow-moving tableau that built in the first fight scene involving all dancers, men with swords interwoven with girls with staves, until the whole recalled the final moment of Spartacus, with the mass slowly moving about the stage as the body count rose.  The next came in the Capulets’ ballroom scene, where the noble ladies had large feathered head-dresses and magnificent long trains that required their own choreography, coiling and unrolling as their wearers became Birds of Paradise.  The costumes throughout were eye-catching, lavish and very effective, in a successful combination of late-Renaissance and contemporary styles by Belgian fashion designer Tim Van Steenbergen. 

 

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The Dance of the Knights - Costumes, Tim Van Steenbergen

(Photo: Marc Haegeman, Courtesy Royal Ballet of Flanders)

 

I have a small question about the ending, with the couple dead in the crypt.  The Synopsis picks up the introduction by stating that the Rehearsal is over and the cast leaves the theatre, leaving Romeo’s body alone.  In fact, once the cortege had passed by, both bodies had gone – an interesting change that must have occurred after the Programme went to print, and probably a better conclusion to the rehearsal idea.  Whatever the case, the production as a whole is a worthy addition to the list of those using the Prokofiev score, given a powerful rendering here by the Flemish Symphony Orchestra under Benjamin Pope.  Ms Carreiro has acquired a jewel for her company and I hope that we might see it in the UK one day soon.  Sadler’s Wells would do nicely.

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