The Royal Opera House,
This was the last day of the Royal Ballet's performances of MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet in this year's season. As chance would have it when I got home I was idly flicking through an old programme box and I came across my programme for "R&J" from 20 years ago. Believe it or not, two of the cast from 1981 were performing today. David Drew has been 'promoted' from Tybalt to Lord Capulet and Romayne Grigorova was again playing Lady Montague.
This 1965 full-length work is one of the strongest in the Royal Ballet's repertoire and the Company still has the benefit of coaching from Anthony Dowell, Monica Mason and others who worked with its choreographer. Although some ballet lovers are nostalgic for the rarely seen Ashton or Cranko versions, this production has established itself with UK audiences and the performance I saw was the 339th by the Royal Ballet. Thus over 36 years, an average of roughly 10 performances per year, indicating its popularity.
I was keen to see the matinee with Mara Galeazzi as Juliet. This is her first season as a First Soloist and her dancing over the past year in The Firebird, Les Biches and This House Will Burn has promised much. Although this was her third performance in the role, the first two were schools events a few years ago and so this was a very special occasion for her. Some nerves might have been expected, but her performance was confident and uninhibited from the start. Perhaps this was due in part to her Romeo, Jonathan Cope, a dream partner and someone you can rely on to catch you as you jump backwards into his strong arms. I understand that her original partner Inaki Urlezaga has suffered a bad injury and is unlikely to dance again this season.
Her fine technique helped her to make the steps look light and easy and throughout Galeazzi wove beautiful shapes from the choreography. One of the joys of the work is the way that Juliet develops from the schoolgirl of the first scene to the passionate and tragic lover of the final stages. The choreography for Juliet helps here with a range of steps carried across her scenes, especially the pas de bourrées, but with a different emphasis as the narrative unfolds. Nevertheless, this is not an easy transformation and Galeazzi accomplished it admirably. I had a sense that this was achieved partly by her using her own out-going personality to provide elements in the portrayal. Thus in the ball scene she is happy and excited to be there and enjoys the initial attention of Paris.
In the key balcony pas de deux, which closes the long first Act, the moment early on when the two lovers look at each other across a long, long diagonal had great intensity and Galeazzi's complete faith in Cope meant that she could apply herself to the expressive aspects of the scene. Her rapture at first love was a joy to see.
In the tragic later scenes, she was a commanding presence on stage as she faced the separation from Romeo and then falls victim to the oppression of her Father's political ambitions through the match with Paris. MacMillan's idea that maturity comes through pain rather than pleasure was clearly defined. The duet with Paris was full of despair and the extraordinary final duet where Romeo believes she is dead was full of anguish. The scene in the vault was marred a little for me as I had to dissuade a tourist behind me from videotaping the action with an electronic device with accompanying chirps and trills! I suspect that this might be the next headache facing us at performances. The wonderful Prokofiev score was accompanied by mobile phones on at least two occasions, but thankfully not in the quiet passages.
As an aside, at a time when there is much discussion about clarity in current narrative dance works, it is worth noting that without the programme notes a first time viewer would have little or no sense that Romeo has been exiled for the slaying of Tybalt or that the letter about the fake suicide has gone astray.
The rest of the cast was also very good. As discussed earlier Jonathan Cope was a fine partner for Galeazzi and turned up the passion in most of the key scenes. However, I felt that his leaving to go into exile at the start of Act III was underplayed and came out as irritation rather than despair. Ricardo Cervera and Ivan Putrov as Mercutio and Benvolio were terrific and these young men made the laddish behaviour of the two friends very believable. The male trios were as good as I have seen in this work for some time. Many hope that these two and Edward Watson continue to develop so that they can fill the gaps which will appear in the ranks of the Principals of the Royal over the next few years.
Vanessa Palmer threw herself into the role of the Lead Harlot and the young Melissa Wishinski did well as one of the other two. David Drew was a formidable Lord Capulet and Genesia Rosato, a fine Harlot in her time, was every inch the haughty aristocrat which made the breakdown at Tybalt's death all the more electrifying.
Overall an excellent performance and one that delighted the capacity audience. I'm sure that many of those present hoped that it won't be long before we see Mara Galeazzi as Juliet again.
Edited by Marie.