Another defining feature is the sword fights. Whatever you think of mock fight scenes in classical ballet, it is still terribly thrilling to hear the clink of the swords in perfect timing to the music. The crème de la crème among those scenes, of course, is the showdown between Mercutio and Tybalt, which accumulates in what must be – in Mercutio – the longest dying scene in the entire classical canon. Mind you, Tybalt’s death is almost equally extravagant, featuring the added drama of the dishevelled, head-shaking Lady Capulet.
Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production also has some amusing touches. There’s the corps de ballet in a cat fight over nothing in the marketplace, the mandolin dancers in what can only be described as unitards with hairs. Lord Capulet and Lord Montague’s short fight sequence is almost slow-motion – highlighting just how old they are and how ridiculous their feud is – and when Prince Escalus steps in, they are reduced to a pair of bickering children.
But what makes a production spectacular is how successful the combination of comedy and tragedy is; whether it can make you laugh out loud in the first act and choke you up in the last. And Birmingham Royal Ballet does this with ease.
Our Romeo of the evening, Iain Mackay, felt a little underprepared. His footwork was a little untidy at times, and there are moments when his pas de deux with Juliet felt very rushed, as if he had something better to do than be with the love of his life. His portrayal of overwhelming love failed to change his being in such a way that sets him apart from his two associates. However, he does come into his own in the balcony scene with some very confident turns, and upon Mercutio’s death, his impulsive, messy fight with Tybalt contrasted perfectly with his best friend’s clean, calculated moves just moments earlier.
Alexander Campbell did steal the show somewhat, conveying an utterly charming Mercutio who was very well complemented by Steven Monteith’s Benvolio who, interestingly, is not an identical character as Mercutio but rather a sillier, goofier friend.
But the shining light of the evening was without a doubt Jenna Roberts’s Juliet. Roberts is a dazzling dancer, and her Juliet is heart-wrenchingly expressive. From her curious stares upon her initial introduction to Paris to her visually softening body as she partners Paris then Romeo at the party, it’s all there for you to see. You can see the exact moment she falls in love with Romeo, just from her eyes. Her dancing in act three has a different flavour to it, her movements punctuated with a sense of desperation and sadness. And you can’t help but die a little inside with her as she hysterically pleas with her parents as they force her into marriage and you are shocked by her emotionless, lifeless body as Paris lifts her into his arms. Her only moment of clarity in the final act comes as she assertively walks, en pointe, away from Paris, as if saying: ‘you cannot have me’.
Roberts – not even a principle dancer in the company yet – caught our attention when she portrayed Juliet in the magnificent Ballet Changed My Life: Ballet Hoo! TV series several years back, and she is even more gripping to watch on stage.
The production is by no means perfect – the scene changes took a little long, which is a problem when they occur in the crucial final act as it is distracting and undermines their impact. There are some rusty parts, as inevitable in any old, three-act ballets, with a few unnecessarily long ‘filler’ scenes, such as the entrance to the party.
But this is bread and butter stuff for a classical ballet company, of course – that their second programme at Sadler’s Wells, Pointes of View, is a more contemporary and offbeat selection of shorter pieces cements Birmingham Royal Ballet’s reputation as a great ballet institution, and I cannot wait to see it.
For tickets and further information visit: Brb.org.uk