Since its premiere in 1965, Kenneth Macmillan’s Romeo and Juliet has been a staple of the Royal Ballet’s repertoire. Although this much loved piece has been performed countless times, prior to the start of last night’s performance there was an air of excited anticipation that filled the Royal Opera House. Reviving her role as Juliet, this production would be Lauren Cuthbertson’s first full-length ballet in 18 months, partnered fantastically by Federico Bonelli. Cuthbertson’s eagerly-anticipated return did not disappoint.
As you would expect the crux of such a seminal production is always going to be to the characterisation of the titular characters. Bonelli’s Romeo is boisterous, energetic and passionate; my only slight criticism would be at some points his facial expressions were unnecessarily stern. Cuthbertson is a true delight to watch as she captures Juliet’s playful wide-eyed innocence brilliantly. Cuthbertson is an extremely expressive performer and this was perhaps most evident in Act III when her parents are trying to force her to marry Paris (the suitor of their choosing). Her strong-willed defiance is illustrated by sharp arabesques as she dramatically pulls away from Paris before a performing a series of bourrées as she hurries to get away from him. Cuthbertson then hurls herself upon her bed and hides under the covers, this action provokes laughter from the audience seemingly in recognition that she has encapsulated a teenage tantrum perfectly. Be it love, anger, heartache or despair, Cuthbertson’s portrayal of Juliet’s emotions are always believable which adds a heartfelt dimension to her performance.
Each of the three acts contains a pas de deux between the protagonists. Sergey Prokofiev’s score soars during the iconic balcony scene, as, gazing into each other’s eyes, the pair perform a duet that comprises of daring lifts and sensual partner work. Cuthbertson appears to melt into Bonelli’s arms and the chemistry between them is palpable. For me, the most moving pas de deux of the production was the one which occurs when Romeo mistakenly thinks that Juliet is dead, he clings to her as he attempts to dance with her one last time. Here Macmillan’s choreography poignantly depicts the conflicting nature of grief.
Macmillan’s choreography feels timeless and although many decades have passed since Nureyev and Fonteyn first performed the roles of Romeo and Juliet, their present day counterparts continue to captivate audiences.
Romeo and Juliet is playing at the Royal Opera House until 7 Dec. For tickets and details of the varying line-ups please visit the Royal Opera House website. Photo by Bill Cooper.