Review: English National Ballet - Romeo and Juliet - Royal Festival Hall

Reviewed by VIKKI JANE VILE - Tuesday 1 August 2017

English National Ballet have done little wrong of late. Only recently in Tamara Rojo’s tenureship audiences have marvelled at English National Ballet’s two contrasting Giselles, and just earlier in the year a remarkable contemporary triple bill. Why then, revive Nureyev’s rather drab and dated production of Romeo and Juliet when balletomanes have so much affection for the much celebrated MacMillan interpretation?

The hardworking corps feel cramped on the shallow and restrictive stage which distracts from the extensive detail in Nureyev’s choreography. Act I begins tentatively however Prokofiev’s rousing score lifts the iconic ball scene and the company rise to the occasion. The experience is enhanced further by the opulent costumes in rich shades of contrasting red and green for the rival groups.

It’s only a shame the intricacies and detail in the corps distract our attention from the main action. This said there is still much to appreciate and enjoy. English National Ballet are a company with many rising stars in their ranks and it’s a pleasure to marvel at their top to bottom talent. Precious Adams gave a wonderfully regal stage presence and Sarah Kundi was eternally energetic in the tightly choreographed interplay between the Montagues and the Capulets.

Individually Erina Takahashi is a flighty, skittish Juliet and despite her experience she is all too believable love struck fourteen-year-old Juliet. She is a dancer who can carry the weight of this role with delicacy and vulnerability. Isaac Hernandez’ Romeo is wistful and dreamy. His leaps light-up the dingy Festival Hall stage however, as a pair these two left me unsatisfied. Despite Takahashi’s tiny stature, the what should be effortless lifts and throws seemed clumsy and under-rehearsed. I got less passion and more sweet friendship resulting in less emotional investment in their plight.

The final tragic scenes feel laboured are some lengthy build up and the final image of the Capulets and Montagues embracing each other on sight of the deceased lovers will be a trifle too saccharine for some tastes.

Alison McWhinney took ownership of the role of Rosaline in a elegant, ethereal performance. Her fleeting floating and purity of movement always eye-catching.

Of course Nureyev’s production is not about the women. The men are the true focus, not just Romeo but we are indulged in plenty of blokey bravado from the leaders of the rival groups. There is some particularly enjoyable sword swishing from James Streeter’s majestic Tybalt and some accomplished exhibitionism from Fernando Bufala’s Mercutio, bum-wiggles et all.

Sadly the entire production is plagued by clunky and awkward scene changes. Curtains creak, and beds bang as they are disassembled all of which detracts our focus from the protagonists. The Festival Hall setting simply lacks the right atmosphere and amenities for such a large scale production.

English National Ballet commit pluckily to the worthwhile cause, however Nureyev’s cluttered choreography and at times laboured storytelling means this Romeo and Juliet feels like an unnecessary struggle for a talented company.

Vikki Jane Vile is a freelance dance writer and regular contributor to Dance Today and Dancing Times. Find her on Twitter @VikkiJane

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