Friday, 13 March 2015
Watching the same ballet twice in a week is not something I do very often for a variety of reasons. But I was so taken by Northern Ballet's Romeo and Juliet last Saturday with Tobias Batley and Dreda Blow in the title roles that I made an exception. I felt compelled to see it again last night but this time with Martha Leebolt and Giuliano Contadini as the lovers.
It was, of course, very good. How could it be anything else with Leebolt as Juliet, Contadini as Romeo, Antoinette Brooks-Daw as the nurse, Javier Torres as Tybalt, Lucia Solari as Lady Capulet, Sean Bates as Benvolio and Matthew Koon as Mercutio not to mention another impressive performance by Isaac Lee-Baker as Friar Lawrence. But somehow some of the sparkle of Saturday night was missing. That was surprising because the last night of a run is often the best. Especially when a show has received excellent reviews as this one has as well as great feedback from the audience.
The absence of sparkle was not the performers' fault. The dancers danced their hearts out as they always do and the Sinfornia played well. But theatre is a two way communication. A great show needs a great audience as well as a great cast and last night's house was definitely not the same as Saturday's. For a start there were fewer of us. The stalls where I sat were nowhere near full. And they were plenty of distractions. The Grand is a very noisy auditorium at the best of times. There's a light rumble whenever someone shifts in his or her seat. But when a file of latecomers take their seats in the middle of the first Act it sounds like a tube train. Worse, there were giggles at certain points such as when Juliet with her back to the audience slips off the top of her clothing before her embarrassed nurse or when the lovers envelope themselves in a sheet in the bedroom scene.
However, there are advantages of seeing a show twice in quick succession and that is that one notices details of the choreography and the story that one missed first time round. Maillot's choreography that I found angular on Saturday does have beauty though of a kind that we are not used to in this country. Until my concentration was disturbed by the arrival of latecomers I reflected on the relationship between the friar and his acolytes, Kevin Poeung and Jeremy Curnier. They hoist Lee-Baker in the air with his arms outstretched as in a crucifixion. The balcony pas de deux is really quite lovely, There is exuberance as Romeo slides between Juliet's feet. There is playfulness as she listens to his heart as Romeo lies prostrate at her side.
One of the reasons why I prefer not to see the same show twice in the same theatre in quick succession is that it is natural to compare one cast with the other. I'm not going to do that here. I liked Leebolt and Contadini just as much as Batley and Blow but they were very different.
Leebolt, who has danced all the major roles in Northern Ballet's repertoire, was magnificent but she was much more like Cleopatra than a teenage girl. There were times when that was good. She communicates emotion well. We could feel her anger throughout the theatre when Romeo sloped into her bedroom after strangling her cousin. Nobody does rage better than Leebolt. Again nobody does despair better than her. Her entreaties to the friar where masterly. It is a big ask of a mature woman at the height of her career to put herself literally in the shoes of a child - though not impossible for a I saw Fonteyn dance Juliet convincingly when she was well over 50.
Contadini was a perfect fit for Romeo, He was boyish, tender, headstrong, contrite and above all passionate, He partnered Leebolt convincingly.
Solari, Brooks-Daw, Torres, Koon and Bates and indeed the whole cast danced well in their roles. They deserved a lot more than one round of curtain calls.
I shall miss Maillot's Romeo and Juliet now that it is done. If ever there was a ballet that should be taken to the Wells then it ought to have been this one. I would just love to know what a London audience would make of a Romeo and Juliet without sword fights but with a turbulent priest. As they put up with Pastor's version for Scottish Ballet last year which was in many ways a lot more radical I think they just might buy it