|Manchester Town Hall|
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English National Ballet, Romeo and Juliet, Palace Theatre, 28 Nov 2015
Last night was the 46th anniversary of the first performance by Northern Dance Theatre (later known as Northern Ballet) at the University Theatre in Manchester. Northern Ballet crossed the Pennines many years ago leaving our city without our own major ballet company. Or did it? I think Manchester has a special relationship with English National Ballet which goes back a very long way. The company gave its first performance at the Opera House on 5 Feb 1951 (see Our History) and it has chosen Manchester for the première of Akram Khan's Giselle on 27 Sept 2016. Last night and on Tuesday English National Ballet pulled out all the stops for us. I don't think I have ever seen English National Ballet dance better since I started following it in 1955.
On Tuesday the company performed Lest we forget (see Lest we Forget 25 Nov 2015). For the rest of the week it has been dancing Nureyev's production of Romeo and Juliet. Yesterday was the first time I had seen that version and I liked it a lot. It has a lot of imaginative and original features some of which, such as the unfolding of Friar Lawrence's cunning plan, seem to have been borrowed from the cinema. It is tense and tight and packed with action. There are lots of colourful touches from the dropping of the black and red cloth in the prologue to the Montagues' flag dance in Act II. There are whole new scenes such as Mercutio's death scene when Romeo and his mates think he is play acting or Juliet's solo with the dagger after Romeo has gone into exile and her parents are trying to force her to marry Paris. The shock when Romeo realizes that Mercutio is dead explains the rush of blood that goaded him to pick up a sword even better than the play. Having said that it is much closer to its source material than either Jean-Christophe Maillot's for Northern Ballet with its focus on Friar Lawrence or Krzysztof Pastor's for Scottish Ballet with its potted history of Italy even though I must add that I liked both versions well enough at the time (see Northern Ballet's Romeo and Juliet - different but in a good way 8 March 2015 and Scottish Ballet's Timeless Romeo and Juliet 18 May 2015).
Though I admired Nureyev's choreography, the orchestration of Prokofiev's magnificent score and Ezio Frigerio's designs it was the dancing that made the evening for me. The casting of Max Westwell and. in particular, Lauretta Summerscales in the title roles was inspired. On her web page she mentions Juliet as the role she would love to dance. The company gave her the chance to dance that role and she grabbed that chance with both hands. I don't think I have ever seen a better Juliet although I have seen some of the world's greatest ballerinas in that role. The quality that she brought to that role was her youth. When playing with her nurse and girl friends in Act I she looked as though she might actually be 13. She grew into a mature woman before our eyes. Westwell was an excellent partner for her. I can quite see how he became a finalist of the emerging dancer contest. His web page says that Romeo and Juliet is his favourite production too and he also made the most of his opportunity to dance the leading role.
All the cast did well and it is perhaps unfair to single any of them for special praise but Fernando Bufalá was a great Mercutio. He was the life and soul of every party (even the one he gate crashed) and clowning even as he died. Fabian Reimair was a seething Tybalt, Jeanette Kakareka a delightful Rosaline and Daniele Silingardi a decent Paris. He seems to have loved Juliet and would have been quite a catch for almost every other young woman. I felt really sorry that he had to die in the tomb.
But the casting that delighted me most was to see Sarah Kundi as Lady Capulet. I have followed that dancer ever since she danced in Leeds. It was she who led me to Ballet Black and through MurleyDance to Richard Chappell. She is tall and elegant with the most expressive face. An actor as much as a dancer, yesterday's role was perfect for her. It is an important one in Nureyev's production for it is Lady Capulet who forces her daughter to take desperate measurers. How I clapped at the curtain call. I fear my "brava" roared from the middle of the stalls would have been drowned out by everyone else's applause by the time it reached the stage. Had this show been in London I could have tossed flowers at her. She and everyone on stage would have deserved them.
So farewell to English National Ballet until its next season in our city. Heartfelt thanks for two magnificent shows. Now that we are to build our fine new £78 million arts centre (see The Factory begins to take Shape 26 Nov 2015) maybe we can tempt it back more often and to stay with us a little longer each time it returns.