Reviews, News and Commentary

RNZB’s Romeo and Juliet full of energy and emotion

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Sara Garbowski (Lady Capulet) and Damani Campbell Williams (Lord Capulet)

Romeo and Juliet by Serge Prokofiev
Royal New Zealand Ballet in association with Avis
Aotea Centre, Auckland

Until May 13

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Of all the great full-length ballets Romeo and Juliet is the closest to real life. There are no fairies, no changelings, no wicked witches or wizards. It is a tale of human dimensions in which individuals make decisions based on their emotions. It is a story about romantic love, but also about the destructive consequences of that love when social norms interfere.

The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s latest production of the work is an adventurous take on the Shakespearean tale choreographed by Andrea Schermoly in a reworking of the ballet originally conceived of by Francesco Ventriglia.  

The sets and costumes designed by the Academy Award-winning designer James Acheson are a masterly combination of realism and inventiveness.  Elements of the architecture of Verona and the facade of San Zeno are combined with images derived from Renaissance art – a crucifix by Giotto and a Madonna and child by Cimabue to create old Verona.

The costumes are ravishing – from the elaborate dresses worn at the ball that could have come straight from an image of the Medici court to the gaudy flounced dresses of the local prostitutes and the colour-coordinated wear of the hot Capulets and the cool Montagues. The staging was also very effective notably with the lush ballroom scene and the two sequences of swordplay which were highly choreographed, provided some electrifying action.

The production is one of the most comprehensively designed the company has had and is an indication of the new heights of creativity that have recently been achieved by the Royal New Zealand Ballet

Romeo and Juliet is still a relevant story today, exploring issues of the personal and the familial and how these conflict with the social and political demands of society.

Romeo and his Montague friends and the rival Capulets may be the testosterone-fuelled youth of Verona but they could be of any time or any place. They follow their own rules but there are also the demands of family. These tensions also become something of a metaphor for the present-day conflict in the Ukraine just as they reflected the tensions  within Soviet Russia at the time Prokofiev was composing.

Katherine Minor (Juliet) and Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson (Romeo)

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson (Romeo) and Katherine Minor (Juliet) have to create characters with the emotional and physical attributes of young people falling in love. They both gave engaging and expressive performances full of energy and emotion.

In much of their dancing in Act II where Minor was  lifted and carried by Guillemot-Rodgerson she gave an impression of lightness  but when she was confronted by her father over her marriage she danced with a blistering angularity displaying the defiance of youth.

She was particularly effective in the drug taking scene where her facial expressions and body movements displayed her reluctance and then acceptance of drinking the potion.

Minor captured the subtle changes of the transformation from child to young woman with a simplicity tinged with apprehension while Guillemot-Rodgerson’s dancing was assured at all times, mixing his macho qualities with an emerging gentleness.

In much of their dancing they achieved a limpid sensuality and in the final sequence, when Romeo danced with the dead Juliet, the two dancers achieved an almost ethereal quality.

There were some outstanding performances by other cast members, with Sara Garbowski investing Lady Capulet with a fury of volcanic proportions while  Damani Campbell Williams as Lord Capulet danced with a barely controlled anger when confronting his daughter about her relationship.

The other young members of the House of Montague, Mercutio (Kihiro Kusukami), and Benvolio (Shaun James Kelly) gave some robust, athletic dancing with their displays of arrogance and wit.

Branden Reiners as Tybalt was a superb, strutting bully and Laura Gretchen Steimie as Juliet’s nurse was able to combine a touch of comedy with her serious colluding.

The great star of the ballet is Prokofiev and his music, which underpins the drama and the emotion of the ballet. The APO under Hamish McKeich ensured the music really was an integral part of the work.

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By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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