Romeo and Juliet 2016 tour trailer from Birmingham Royal Ballet on Vimeo.
The Birmingham Royal Ballet, Romeo and Juliet, The Lowry Theatre, 5 March 2016
Sometimes a good outcome can result from an unhappy event. There are countless tales of actors and sportsmen as well as dancers stepping into a role at the last minute and rendering a magnificent performance. That happened last night when Tyrone Singleton danced Romeo in Birmingham Royal Ballet's performance of Romeo and Juliet at the Lowry Theatre in Salford.
Singleton stepped in because Jamie Bond was indisposed. Apparently he sustained an injury minutes before the curtain rose. That came as a blow because Bond is one of my favourite dancers. I enjoyed his performance as Beliaev in A Month in the Country on 20 Feb 2016 and I had been looking forward to seeing him as Romeo ever since. But of course that is secondary to the welfare of a dancer. The company gave no details of the injury and I am sure that I speak for everyone in wishing him all the best.
However, although I was disappointed not to see Bond, Singleton made up for it. He is another of my favourites and I may be wrong but I think yesterday was the first time that he danced Romeo. He had danced Benvolio and Paris in Romeo and Juliet before so he would have known the ballet well but Romeo is a very demanding role requiring considerable dramatic as well as virtuosity. With four pas de deux - particularly the last one as Romeo carries Juliet's seemingly lifeless body around the stage - several big sword fights and lots of ecstatic solo jumping - there is more than enough demand for technical skills. All I can say is that he carried it off very well indeed and I congratulate him on his performance.
Of course a great Romeo needs an excellent Juliet and we had a particularly good one in Nao Sakuma. This is another challenging role for the dancer has to grow before the audience's eyes from playful infant into an adult with capacity for all consuming love and considerable courage and determination. This is one of the great theatrical roles not just in ballet but in any media and it is big challenge for any ballerina. I have seen Lynn Seymour and Margot Fonteyn dance those roles but I don't think either of them thrilled me more than Sakuma did last night. She has a real understanding of the character. The acid test of a great Juliet is her solo in her bedroom as she contemplates her options after the double shock of Romeo's departure and her parents' order to marry Paris sinks in. Sakuma emerged from it as pure gold.
There were lots of other fine performances last night.
Valentin Olovyannikov was a great Tybalt. Why do my fellow Mancunians boo fine artists after magnificent performances just because they dance the villain's role? Too many pantomimes, I guess. We all admired his performance. I hope he takes those boos as compliments for I am sure that was the intention. Also, is Tybalt really any worse than the other young hooligans in the Montague or Capulet families. I suppose he did stab Mercutio in the back but wouldn't Benvolio, Mercutio or even Romeo have done the same given the chance?
Talking of Mercutio and Benvolio, Mathias Dingman and Jonathan Caguioa gave fine performances of these roles.
So, too, did Steven Monteith as Paris. According to his twitter feed he is about to retire. He will be missed. In the first interval I bumped into Janet McNulty of BalletCo Forum and her companion. "I don't know why she bothered with Romeo when she had such a good looking Paris" Janet said. In view of Singleton's striking good looks, his height and slender, athletic frame that is quite a compliment. Again, I am sure I speak for everyone in wishing Monteith well in the next phase of his career.
As for the women, it is always a pleasure to see Delia Matthews. I was so sad to learn that she had been injured in Les Rendzvous (see Birmingham Royal Ballet in York 21 May 2015). It was lovely to see her back in top form as Rosaline. Ana Albutashvili was a fine nurse. I particularly loved her dance with Romeo and his mates as she tried to deliver Juliet's letter fending off the groping and bottom pinching but palpably relishing the kiss from Romeo. Yijing Zhang was a passionate Lady Capulet: spitting blood at Romeo after he had despatched Tybalt but still capable of at least some empathy for Juliet as her dad laid down the law. And although they were not on stage for long it was great to see Maureya Lebowitz who had impressed me as Lise (see Fille bien gardée - Nottingham 26 June 2014 26 Jan 2014) and Céline Gittens who was an adorable Swanilde (see Sensational 6 March 2015) again.
All danced well and this review would rival a telephone directory in length and turgidity if I were to give every dancer his or her due. I really wish I had brought flowers to throw on stage in the Covent Garden tradition even though I would probably have been bundled out of the Lowry and banned from ever returning. But it would have been worth it for all the artists danced so well. Maybe flower throws are a London practice we should import for shows like last night's as well as clapping when the principal appears. I clapped as Singleton and Sakuma appeared in scenes one and two but inaudibly. So frustrating!
This was the first time I had seen MacMillan's ballet without Nicholas Georgiadis's sets. They are so rich and add so much to the show. But although I prefer Georgiadis's designs simply because I associate them with some great productions in the past, Paul Andrew's worked well too.
The other great ingredient of this ballet is the music and Koen Kessels interpreted Prokofiev's difficult score magnificently.
Having moaned about my fellow Mancunians for booing Tybalt and not clapping the principals or throwing flowers I must commend them for turning out in force last night. I couldn't see a single empty seat. So different from the Hippodrome two weeks ago. In my review of the Ashton's Double Bill 21 Feb 2016 I wrote:
"For some reason or other the theatre was far from full which is disappointing for a performance by a company of the calibre of the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Although there were some cheers and bravos - mainly from me - and one or two people on their feet - there were not all that many curtain calls. It was a good show and BRB deserved more appreciation. I am sure they will do better when they bring Romeo and Juliet to the Lowry."I am so relieved that was the case. My birthplace is the second city of the United Kingdom not simply by dint of numbers but also in its appreciation of excellence.