Review: Birmingham Royal Ballet in Romeo & Juliet at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 26-28 Oct
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Friday 27 October 2006

All this ballyhoo about Ballet Hoo – the BRB’s televised education project in which 60+ underprivileged adolescents trained to perform roles in *Romeo and Juliet* – stirred up more than a passing interest in this London mini-season for the real thing. The problem with any professional dancer playing the key non-dancing roles so soon after the Ballet Hoo performance (on 28 September) is that they have the poisoned chalice of being exposed to fresh comparisons with these ebullient, effervescent life-changed kids who did so amazingly well.

Poisoned chalices are the thing with Romeo and Juliet, not that this applies in any way to Nao Sakuma who was the most complete heroine one could wish for. Every single nuance of the role was delivered with passion and excellence; all of Kenneth MacMillan’s iconic images were there, in her movement, line, poses and the pliancy of her supple back; all interpreted with great musicality and intense drama. Beyond this there were added touches which made the interpretation one for her alone, amongst all the many ballerinas who can claim Juliet on their CV: one particularly memorable instance was when turning to meet Romeo’s face for the first time, her breathing alters, as if this life-changing moment has made her forget how to breathe.

The BRB version of MacMillan’s classic ballet has many idiosyncratic differences from the version frequently performed in London by the Royal Ballet but the biggest generic distinction is that they carry the story so well in their mime. The central theme of Romeo & Juliet is, of course, a commonly known scenario but it has many tributaries which are not so well understood, such as the love between Lady Capulet and her nephew, Tybalt, and this wider narrative is communicated exceptionally well by the BRB team. This is mainly explained by the depth of experience in a cast such as this with, for example, the wonderful Marion Tait (formerly a Principal Dancer of exceptional quality and now the BRB’s Ballet Mistress) bringing all of this rich depth of understanding to the role of Lady Capulet.

My only disappointment came in the early interpretation of Romeo by Robert Parker. His first two scenes were hesitant with moments of imprecise footwork and messy, sometimes off-balanced turns but he certainly picked it up for the famous balcony pas de deux with the delightful Sakuma, which was especially moving. He also provided a surprisingly venomous and thrilling swordfight with the domineering Jonathan Payn (as Tybalt) which certainly topped the usual ultra-cautious presentation of the blades which typifies other balletic stage fights.

This was an exceptional all-round performance by a company which is not over-endowed with leading dancers and sometimes shows the strain: Chi Cao who was so active in the earlier Mixed Stravinsky programme was subsequently injured and not able to perform Mercutio here, as scheduled. On the evidence of this brief London season at Sadler’s Wells, it is clear that all the ballyhoo about the current form of Birmingham Royal Ballet is well deserved, and not just through their excellent educational endeavours for under-privileged kids.

What’s On