|Ford Madox Brown Romeo and Juliet|
Ballet in the round is a very different experience from ballet on a proscenium stage. For a start there is so much space allowing dancers to build up momentum and elevation. The orchestra is not confined to a pit but occupies a platform above the dancers. The arena can accommodate scores of dancers for crowd scenes. At the same time it is also intimate. The dancers access the arena from different parts of the auditorium literally within inches of the audience.
English National Ballet's Romeo and Juliet is massive involving the whole company plus many artists who had been recruited especially for this production. According to the website, the cast is 120 strong and the list of names fills five columns of small print in the programme. Many of those who have been recruited for this show are considerable artists in their own right such as Sarah Kundi (see "Bye Bye and All the Best" 10 June 2013). Crowd scenes really did have crowds. The sheer number of combatants made the fights seem not only realistic but menacing. Quite a contrast to Ballet Cymru's Romeo a Juliet which I saw in Kendal just over a year ago ("They're not from Chigwell - they're from a small Welsh Town called Newport" 14 May 2013).
Although Romeo and Juliet is set against a background of inter family rivalry it is a love story and the focus is on the lovers. Those roles demand much from the principals who have to grow up before our eyes. English National Ballet has very special dancers for Romeo and Juliet such as Carlos Acosta and Tamara Rojo, Vadim Muntagirov and Daria Klimentová, Arionel Vargas and Elena Glurdjdze, Friedemann Vogel and Alina Cojocaru. If I had unlimited time and resources I would have seen them all but being obliged to make a choice I chose Vogel and Cojocaru.
I chose Vogel because he is from the Stuttgart Ballet which was founded by John Cranko. Cranko's Romeo and Juliet was the inspiration for Kenneth MacMillan's which is the version with which British audiences are most familiar. Cranko's artists were Richard Cragun and Marcia Haydée. I never saw them dance Romeo and Juliet but this YouTube clip gives an indication of the beauty of that production. English National Ballet's rehearsal video reminded me of that clip and suggested that Vogel with Cojocaru might be the next best thing.
It was a good choice. They were excellent. From the moment she entered the arena as a playful teenager teasing her nurse Cojocaru delighted her audience. She projected the excitement of a débutante at a first dance, the conflict of emotions on first seeing Romeo, her joy at the balcony scene and her determination to marry him come what may. Vogel was the perfect Romeo, ardent in love but also in anger after Tybault had despatched Mercutio.
There were fine performances too from Arionel Vargas as Paris, a decent man who did not deserve to meet his end in the Capulet crypt at the hands of Romeo, Max Westwell as Tybalt, Fernando Bufalá as Mercutio, Luke Haydon as Friar Lawrence and Jane Howarth as a powerful Lady Capulet. All beautifully choreographed by Derek Deane.
Having seen this production I wondered why all ballets are not staged in the round. There are challenges for the designer, of course, because the focus is not on the stage but Roberta Guidi di Bagno's met them by projecting portraits and other scenes from renaissance Italy that complemented the more substantial edifices for the town scenes and balcony. Coming from Holmfirth I am always proud to see Gavin Sutherland who trained at the University of Huddersfield and because the orchestra was resplendent on a platform I really could see him and them any time time I wanted to do so throughout the show. It is good to see the musicians from time to time for, as Christopher Wheeldon reminded us in The Winter's Tale, they perform too.
I have seen three productions of Romeo and Juliet in the last year from the Welsh, the Scots and now the English national companies. Each was very different from the others but I liked them all. My next performance will be Russian though with yet another Yorkshireman, Xander Parish, in the title role. I can barely wait.