Romeo and Juliet
25th March 2008
John Cranko’s version of Romeo and Juliet is without doubt one of the finest in existence, standing the test of time extremely well and it is a tribute to Cranko’s greatness that a ballet approaching its fiftieth birthday can remain so fresh and vibrant after the passage of so many years.
This production has always had its admirers and I count myself among them, but what always strikes first time viewers most forcibly is the similarity to the more familiar version of the ballet by Kenneth MacMillan and there can be no doubts that MacMillan drew very heavily on this earlier production. Cranko’s first act with it’s brilliant handling of the corps de ballet in both the market place and the ballroom, the inspired pas de trois for Romeo and his friends and above all the breathtaking balcony pas de deux is in my view better than MacMillan’s. In the second act I feel the honours are shared fairly equally but MacMillan tackles the raw emotion of the final act far more compellingly with the extended passage of Romeo dancing with Juliet’s body tearing your heart out.
Which version is better is of course down to personal taste but for me the Cranko edges ahead on points, in fact I would I say the choreographic variety and sheer inventiveness make it superior. MacMillan’s darker, very personal view of the storyline that doesn’t really match up with Shakespeare’s depiction of innocent love cut short by tragedy and relies too heavily for success on the personal interpretations of the dancers playing the leads whereas in Cranko’s version the choreography is the star.
Blessed with some of the most authentic looking sets and costumes ever created for a Romeo, the designer Jürgen Rose has perfectly recreated the look and feel of renaissance Italy and the dancers inhabit this far off time with ease and naturalness as the street fighters and onlookers that form the violent fabric from which the Montagues and Capulets spring. The ensemble dancing was exceptionally well done with every corps dancer an individual in his or her own right, though the leading roles were more variable.
Casting decisions are often impenetrable mysteries to many of us and I was told by a continental critic that the company had not chosen to show their best Romeo and Juliet on the first night; in fact neither Katja Wünsche nor Friedemann Vogel seemed an ideal Romeo and Juliet, she too sophisticated and he too worldly, not besotted young lovers at all. Their best moments came in the balcony pas de deux, but then the choreography for this is so well written that almost any couple would impress.
The other major roles were excellent though, with Filip Barankiewicz’s Mercutio and Marijn Rademaker’ Benvolio (two dancers scheduled to dance Romeo later in the run) out dancing Vogel in the Act I pas de trois featuring repeated double tours as both performed the step with a far cleaner finish. The Tybalt of Jiri Jelinke is also impressive; a young hot-head overly concerned with family honour, he Kills Mercutio more by mistake than out of malice. A nice touch to have Marcia Haydée appearing in the role of Juliet’s mother, but in all honesty she looked a little old to be the mother of a teenage.
One thing that struck me about the company this time around was a slight imbalance between the sexes as here the male dancers appear in the main far more exceptional than the females whereas in most companies it’s the other way round. It is far too long since the Stuttgart Ballet was last in London and I’d love to see a more extended stay next time with an opportunity to see more of their repertoire, particularly works by Cranko, a wonderful choreographer who is becoming unfairly neglected within the British companies that first nurtured him