Review Romeo and Juliet: a return to the first class of the Royal Ballet
To some, this may not seem like the most obvious spectacle with which to open the Royal Ballet’s first full season in over 18 months. Doomed passion, tragic death, stab wounds, poisonings and sword fights galore – are Romeo and Juliet really the post-Covid pick-me-up we’ve all been waiting for? Still, opening night proved just how much of an inspired choice it is.
Kenneth MacMillan’s take on Shakespeare’s Cursed Lovers – long regarded as the “definitive” version of ballet since its inception in 1965 – may have two of dance’s most coveted roles at its center, but it is a work that calls for a solid supporting cast, as many versatile actors as first-rate dancers. And of any big company in the world, the Royale has it in spades. Every time you watch on stage, a miniature drama unfolds before you – from the humble prostitute selling her wares in front of an indifferent shopper to a bored market trader insolently lounging against a pillar.
Amidst this beautifully observed setting are a host of remarkable supporting roles featuring a troupe at the top of their game – including Marcelino Sambé’s charismatic Mercutio, James Hay’s cheeky Benvolio, Gary Avis’ arrogant and mustachioed Tybalt, Lord Capulet. That these dancers have MacMillan in their bones is hardly a surprise (his works are after all a mainstay of the royal repertoire); the real skill lies in how they make this 56 year old ballet so fresh.
And what about these lovers? Francesca Hayward – tiny and flowing, with huge, expressive eyes and lyrical, flowing limbs – is one of the best Juliets in the company since she first played the role in 2015. Then her heroine was full. of childish impulsiveness, a woman not yet who is both carried away by passion but also the main instigator of the action. His Romeo, quite simply, didn’t stand a chance. Now, facing a puppy Cesar Corrales – her boyfriend in real life – Hayward still delivers the same overwhelmed innocent to us but with one crucial difference: this Romeo is with her every step of the way. From their first meeting in a crowded ballroom a pas de deux on an abandoned balcony and that devastating final tomb scene, there’s never a time we’re not convinced it’s all about. a couple desperately, irrevocably in the throes of a devouring first love. – and head recklessly towards disaster.
Royal Opera House, until February 25, 2022 (roh.org.uk)