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Royal New Zealand Ballet

'Romeo & Juliet'

by Kate Snedeker

May 13, 2004 -- Edinburgh Festival Theatre

In a striking twist of fate, the Royal New Zealand Ballet's performance of Christopher Hampson's "Romeo and Juliet" in Edinburgh started at almost exactly the same time as the performance of the balcony scene from "Romeo & Juliet" - part of the Command Performance at the Royal Theatre - in Copenhagen. The Royal New Zealand Ballet was founded by Dane, and the dancers in Copenhagen were an Australian and a Dane. While the the theatre in Edinburgh may have lacked royalty, TV cameras and fancy decorations, the Royal New Zealand dancers put on a no less sensational display of dancing and theatrics.

Though clearly inspired by his childhood memories of Kenneth MacMillan's classic production, Hampson melds classical with Corleone, placing his Capulets and Montagues in a hip 1950s Verona . The fighting families are now Mafia-esque and edgy, the swords replaced by baseball bats and the gowns & brocaded jackets by slick suits and short skirts. Craig Lord's red-satin-trouser-clad Romeo is a lanky waiter, Megan Futcher's youthful Juliet the daughter of a rival family.

The curtain rises to reveal Tracy Grant's clever set: initially a narrow, pale stone-walled Veronese street, it swings around to form the stone walls of Juliet's bedroom, the Capulet courtyard and, of course, the balcony. The space feels a bit cramped at first, but the set brings the action forward on the stage, so the dancing is up close and personal. The dancers are on the edge of the stage, the audience the edge of their seats.

The strengths of the performance are in the group scenes and the supporting roles. Geordie Wilcox' Tybalt is flashy and smooth, a man not to be messed with. Yet, it is Jacob Shofer's swaggering, prancing Mercutio who steals the show with his antics and dramatics. Shofer, a nimble dancer and born showman, blends just the right amount of camp with honest emotion, making Mercutio a truly loveable character. Thus his agonizing death is all the more heart-wrenching.

Nadine Tyson's Lady Capulet is no-nonsense, fiery and carrying on with Tybalt. Given Tyson's powerful dramatics, it is a shame that Hampson chooses to be so literal as to use fake blood in Tybalt's death scene. There is enough metaphorical blood and pain in Tyson's performance that the "real thing" feels fake and out-of-place.

However, the most memorable performance came from Pieter Symonds as a youngish, but poignant and dedicated Nurse. Part maid, part nanny and part confidant, you could see her devotion to and growing relationship with her young charge.

The opening street melee is edgy and dramatic, with knives glinting in the light, but the ballroom scene is the most visually and emotionally stunning. The ladies are clad in deeply hued, full-skirted dresses and have marvelous feather trimmed masks atop their heads, while the men are outfitted in long satin vest-jackets. Accompanied by Prokofiev's moody, throbbing score, it looks for all the world like some kind of exotic avian mating dance, a dance that brings two hearts together, as the orchestral heart-beat pounds.

The balcony scene was nicely, if a bit blandly danced by Lord and Futcher. As the young lovers, they were solid individually, but through the first two acts they didn't seem to have a believable connection. However, the real emotion burst through in the bedroom and crypt scenes. In a refreshing touch of realism, the young lovers wake up in underclothes amongst disheveled sheets. Lord is much taller than his diminutive partner, but this size differential is used to choreographic advantage. At the climax of of the bedroom scene, Futcher rises though a perfect releve up onto pointe in one fluid motion to kiss Lord. It's a wonderful example of combining stellar technique and moving choreography.

In the final scene, Futcher and Lord rose to the emotional crescendo of Prokofiev's music, matching anguished movement to soaring musical note. Futcher was especially moving, her character having matured from an innocent young girl to a heart-broken young woman, as evident in the deepening emotion of her dancing. The end recalls how close and yet how far the two lovers came to a life of happiness - for Juliet wakes from her potion-induced sleep in the same split second that Romeo's potion takes its deadly effect, one hand rising and one hand dropping - the difference of a millisecond and a lifetime.

Edited by Holly Messitt

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