Sunday, 18 May 2014

Scottish Ballet's Timeless Romeo and Juliet

Ever since it was in Bristol  Scottish Ballet has been exciting and innovative. I suppose that is one of the reasons why I have always admired it.  It was works such as Mods and Rockers '63 and Houseparty that first attracted my attention. It continued to innovate and take risks after the company's move to Glasgow with a a steady stream of new works by Peter Darrell, Ashley Page and now Christopher Hampson all of which are reflected in the company's repertoireKrzysztof Pastor's Romeo and Juliet continues that tradition of adventure and innovation.  

I saw that ballet at Sadler's Wells on 17 May 2014. This is the first time it has been seen in London but it has  been in Scottish Ballet's repertoire since 2008.   It is in fact on its third tour of Scotland or fourth if you count the Up Close tour when parts of the ballet were danced in some of the smaller venues in Scotland during October 2010.  After London it will be in Edinburgh between the 21 and 24 May. As Northern Ballet's recent success at The Linbury shows, there is good ballet outside London though that seems to come as a surprise to London audiences.

The story of Romeo and Juliet is well known and has been the translated into ballet by several choreographers. The version with which British audiences are most familiar is probably Kenneth Macmillan's for the Royal Ballet.  Ballet Cymru also has a great version for the small auditoriums that it visits which I reviewed in "They're not from Chigwell - they're from a small Welsh Town called Newport" 14 May 2013. Next month we shall see English National Ballet's Romeo and Juliet in the Round and then the Mariinsky's with Xander Parish dancing Romeo.  

Shakespeare's play and the other versions of the ballet focuses on the young lovers who are kept apart by family antipathy and rivalry. Pastor's version focuses on the enmity not just in mediaeval Verona but in Italy throughout the ages.   It achieves that effect by setting different scenes of the ballet in different periods of modern Italian history: 
  • between the wars when Fascists struggled with Communists; 
  • the immediate post war period when Italy was transformed into a consumer society; and 
  • the recent past when the post-war consumer boom ended precipitously.
There are people in the position of Romeo and Juliet in every age and I read the references to Romeo and Juliet in the ballet as the representatives  of such persons in each of those periods.

In every other respect the ballet followed the play. There were strong performances by Christopher Harrison as Romeo, Claire Robertson as Juliet, Daniel Davidson as Mercutio, Owen Thorne as Tybault and Rimbaud Patron as Friar Lawrence. Principal conductor Richard Honner stuck to the Prokofiev score though perhaps with a few tweaks. For instance the percussion seemed to continue a little longer than in other versions after Romeo had killed Tybault.  As in Macmillan's version the centre piece of Pastor's ballet were the pas de deux that traced the lovers' relationship: the initial meeting, the balcony scene, in the bedroom and finally the tomb. I noticed how a lift that seemed like an assisted grand jeté expressed diffidence and even struggle in the first pas de deux and joy in the second.

Among the aspects of the ballet that I most liked were Tatyana van Walsum's designs which can be studied on the Romeo and Juliet page of her website. For each of the three periods she set the scene with flickering newsreel clips and the protagonists' uniforms.

For my further reflections on this ballet and the views of others who saw it This ballet is not everybody's cup of tea though it is certainly mine. The initial reactions on BalletcoForum were not exactly encouraging but I have known Scottish Ballet for many years and I was not going to be deterred. I am glad I persevered. After watching Romeo and Juliet at the Wells on Saturday I signed up as a Friend though I have been such for many years.

Further Reading
20 Dec 2013   Scottish Ballet
9 March 2014 Peter Darrell
11 March 2014  Elaine McDonald in her own Words

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