Romeo and Juliet

Choreography by Kenneth MacMillan, music by Sergey Prokofiev
The Royal Ballet
Royal Opera House

Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares in Romeo and Juliet Credit: ROH, Dee Conway

The light of Kenneth MacMillan’s first full-length ballet, Romeo and Juliet, created in 1965 for The Royal Ballet, never dims. At its 439th performance at the Royal Opera House one understands why. It is the music of course—Prokofiev’s vivid expression of Shakespeare’s drama is the set, the colour, the shading, the timbre of a tragedy that should never have happened, but happen it still does.

Two feuding families and entrenched tradition curtail a young love that could have transcended hatred and division. MacMillan, one who understood the darker places of the soul, created dance steps that transcend dance. Taking risks with moments of stillness that contrast with hectic passion—Romeo and Juliet girdle the stage with love—he lets the music do the talking... the stately walking formation at the ball, the high drama of the market square.

Volatile Verona’s teaming market place where swaggering young men show off to their whores with pranks and swordfights... young Romeo Montague, chasing skirt with his best mates Mercutio and Benvolio, challenging, teasing and getting the better of Tybalt of the Capulet clan. Three cheeky lads who can charm even Juliet’s nurse and would have continued to do so if chance had not intervened.

Devil-may-care until he spies Juliet Capulet at a masked ball, when before our very eyes Romeo puts aside childish things. One sees him, though still full of braggadocio, take on a tenderness and a care for this most precious thing, a young girl on the cusp of adolescence, shy, awakening to life.

In the harsh reality of the times, Juliet too is made to put away childish things, her beloved doll, and accept Paris as her betrothed. Thrust too quickly into an arranged marriage, she is torn initially between duty to her strict parents and this vision in a mask encountered at her coming-out ball.

Swift to fall in love, impetuous, the young lovers are doomed by convention and fate. Romeo’s friends don’t believe the change in him and continue with their silly sword games, but Mercutio is felled by Tybalt and Romeo is compelled to take revenge on his love’s relative. Undone by fate. Is the blind ragged beggar haunting the market Tiresias of Greek myth?

Juliet’s bed now is one of cold marble in the family tomb. Imagine waking in a dark crypt to find two dead bodies, Paris’s, whom Romeo has killed, and that of her beloved. What would you do? Marianela Nuñez could not contain her tears. Taking her curtain call, she was still weeping. Receiving her bouquets and her well-deserved accolades, she wept and smiled through tears. And sought comfort from her real life husband, Thiago Soares, her Romeo.

Cast third in a cast of eight couples taking on the lead roles, the two of them—curiously only one performance from them in this run of fourteen performances—fit the ballet like a glove. Natural, beautiful dancers, she with a smile that lights up the galleries, he (a former Tybalt) with a strong bold presence, expressive arms and looks that can play light or dark.

Cast placing notwithstanding not-long-married couple Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares soar with panache and delicacy through an arduous three-hour ballet. Soares has a natural ease that underplays the choreography’s demands, whilst Nuñez gives her natural grace to emotion. Not larger than life, but life itself.

They are supported by a tremendous Thomas Whitehead as Tybalt, a light-on-his-feet Ricardo Cervera as mandolin-playing jester Mercutio, and Jonathan Watkins gives his all as Benvolio. Valeri Hristov is a plausible Paris—handsome, attentive—maybe not such a bad choice after all by the parents. Gary Avis (another former Tybalt) and Elizabeth McGorian as Juliet’s grieving parents tear at the heart. And Alexander Campbell, stepping in to cover for an injured Valentino Zucchetti, deserves a mention as the lead in the Mandolin Dance.

But praise, above all, to the Royal Opera House Orchestra under the baton of Pavel Sorokin for an interpretation of Prokofiev’s music that kept me enthralled to the end—the Russian tones of joy and hope, the ecclesiastical notes of doom, the lyrical, the sonorous and the dissonant that move the soul however familiar one is with them. My ears were open as never before.

The riches that the Royal Ballet has to offer… such a range of dancers and interpreters of the roles, each pairing is worth a visit. And there are two debuts to come: Melissa Hamilton (Rosaline here) paired with Rupert Pennefather will take on Juliet, and Sergei Polunin paired with Lauren Cuthbertson Romeo in March. If the latter two are as spectacular as they were in Manon this year this will be one not to miss (there will be live cinema relay on 22 March).

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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