A twist of focus in the telling of Romeo and Juliet blows a curious air across a strangely fragmented production.
No-one could argue with the breadth and depth of talent that lies within the Northern Ballet company. These dancers are individually and collectively renowned for being superb all-round performers, their acting skills frequently noted alongside their irrefutable dance expertise. However, their latest production of Romeo and Juliet demonstrates why this just isn’t enough to ensure a full-scale production really hits the mark, as this one just missed.
This was a peculiar mixture of high-art and esoteric symbolism at one end of the scale and crude and obvious gesticulation at the other, with little to smooth the transition between the two. The overtly comic choreography of Juliet’s Nurse chimed with the ‘phooar’ faces and groping of breasts that the younger members of the Capulet and Montague crew continually engaged in, but jarred awkwardly against what should – and could - have been moments of deepest intensity and feeling, such as Juliet strangling herself with a ribbon of Romeo’s blood at the end of Act III.
Friar Lawrence, majestically performed by Isaac Lee-Baker, was recast here as a tortured soul who manipulated events – perhaps unwillingly, but nevertheless inevitably - to ensure that the star-crossed lovers fulfilled their tragic destiny. At the beginning of Act II, he rather sinisterly performed in a puppet show that enacted their story from passion through to death; and in the final scene, apparently hid while the mourners came and Romeo took his own life, creeping out in anguish only after the event, in time to bear witness to Juliet’s rude awakening. This provided a different – and interesting - thread with which to weave the story together, but it introduced an additional plotline that was too psychologically complex to be fully explained or understood through the language of dance.
The whole cast put in a solid performance, led by Martha Leebolt who skilfully balanced Juliet’s passion and gauche naivety, and Giuliano Contadini who, as Romeo, demonstrated his prowess in both dancing and acting to give a particularly emotionally-charged performance in the heartbreaking final scene. The live orchestra also lent their weight, producing a stirring rendition of Prokofiev’s marvellous score. It was the monochrome set, lighting and costumes and disjointed choreography that unfortunately failed to gel this production together.
This is one for those well-versed in both Shakespeare and ballet, who will appreciate the starkly classic style. Not for those looking for an introduction.