Saturday, 15 October 2016

Romeo and Juliet after the Shrew

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Northern Ballet Romeo and Juliet, Alhambra, Bradford 14 Oct 2016, 19:30

I have to be frank. It was the Bolshoi who sold me my ticket to Northern Ballet's Romeo and Juliet last night with their exquisite performance of The Taming of the Shrew at the Royal Opera House in the summer (see Bolshoi's Triumph - The Taming of the Shrew 4 Aug 2016). It was they who turned me into a Maillot fan (see Jean-Christophe Maillot 5 Aug 2016 and World Ballet Day: Les Ballets de Monte Carlo 10 Oct 2016).

Had it not been for the Bolshoi I think I would have used my precious ballet going weekend to see Ballet Black last night and then hop on a train to London to see the matinee performance La Fille mal gardee today. No disrespect to Northern Ballet which is a fine company but I had already seen its Romeo and Juliet twice last year (see Northern Ballet's Romeo and Juliet - different but in a good way 8 March 2015 and Leebolt's Juliet 13 March 2015). Fille is one of Ashton's masterpiece which is performed only by the Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet and then not every year.

Now there is a lot of difference between the massive 240 year old company founded by Prince Ursov with all the resources of the Russian state and a mid-size 41 year old company in Leeds and I came to the Alhambra wondering whether I had done the right thing in letting Lise and Colas go for a year or so. I am glad to say that I think I did for Northern Ballet danced very well  last night. It was far better than either of the performances that I had seen in 2015 even though the cast was the same it was as the first time that I had seen the show.

Perhaps one of the reasons why yesterday's performance was so good is that they danced in the Alhambra before a Bradford crowd. From the theatre goer's point of view it is the best dance venue in Yorkshire and second only to the Lowry in the North. The Grand at Leeds is all very well but there are pillars and all sorts other obstructions to spoil the view, the bars are crowded and leg room in the cheaper seats is terrible. The Quarry at West Yorkshire Playhouse has none of those disadvantages but its capacity is limited to 750. I also find that a Bradford audience is generally more discriminating and appreciative. The Alhambra is on the circuit for world class touring companies like NDT II and Alvin Ailey. Also, they are that much closer to Manchester and thus more likely to see Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet and other visitors to the Lowry and Palace.

The title roles yesterday were danced by Tobias Batley and Dreda Blow. Blow fits naturally into Juliet's role. As I said in Northern Ballet's Romeo and Juliet - different but in a good way:
"She was a perfect Juliet. Playful and feisty. Loving but conflicted. Brave but fearful. Blow is elevated to my pantheon of favourites."
That was still my view of her last night. Batley has to work at Romeo.  We are used to seeing him as mature men such as Heathcliff, Marc Antony and Gatsby rather than as a callow, headstrong, teenage boy, but he did work at it and was quite convincing in the balcony and bedroom pas de deux. However, the most arresting scene was Lady Capulet's explosion of rage and that will be the image that I will retain from the show. Hannah Bateman was magnificent in that role. Also impressive was Mlindi Kulashi who portrayed Tybalt as a bit of a thug. Rather unusual perhaps but quite logical when you think about it. Antoinette Brooks-Daw won the crowd's affection as the loyal, long suffering, much put upon nurse. Abigail Prudames was an adorable Rosaline. At least three people including Romeo would still be alive had Romeo stuck with her. Joseph Taylor interpreted Friar Lawrence's role quite differently from Isaac Lee-Baker whom I had previously seen in that role. Maillot had invested some of the authority that in other productions is vested in the duke in the friar's role. Yesterday we saw Taylor as the guardian of the public interest crumble as the corpses piled up from his loss of control.

That brings me back to the reason why I was in the theatre. As I explained in  Northern Ballet's Romeo and Juliet - different but in a good way Maillot's production is quite unlike Lavrosky's, MacMillan's, Nureyev's or any other production of Romeo and Juliet and that is because he has rewritten the play. He did very much the same even more successfully with The Taming of the Shrew.  He is now working on an interpretation of Midsummer Night's Dream called Le Songe which, despite using Mendelssohn, appears to be as different from Ashton's Dream as his Shrew is from Cranko's and his Romeo and Juliet from MacMillan's. The glimpses of the rehearsal on his World Ballet Day slots were tantalizing. Maillot appreciates Shakespeare and understands him but that does not stop him from taking the occasional liberty with him - and getting away with it.

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