Romeo A Juliet @ Exeter Northcott

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Ballet Cymru, led by artistic director Darius James (OBE), claims to do things a bit differently. If we are to judge by this revival tour of their 2013 ballet Romeo a Juliet, choreographed by him and assistant artistic director Amy Doughty, that statement is indeed true. I applaud the moves towards inclusivity, which feel genuine and never tokenistic. To have a female dancer portraying Benvolio and Friar Lawrence, as well as a wheelchair-using dancer (Joe Powell-Main) in ballet are mention-worthy. It would have been wonderful to see Powell-Main featured even more prominently, but this inclusion is definitely the move in the right direction for ballet and dance in general.

Prokofiev’s score for Romeo and Juliet is epic: brassy, emotional, containing soft string sections and powerful motifs. It would have been glorious to have a live orchestra play this, but due to the current state of funding for the arts, we are lucky we even had this excellent production at all! Sinfonia Cymru’s recording of the abridged score (the original runs at two and a half hours, this production finished in two including a twenty-minute interval) was adequate at capturing the complex music.

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The most famous piece of the score, Dance of the Knights, will be known to most as the opening of The Apprentice. This accompanies the ball scene where the star-crossed lovers meet. In this production the congregated dancers, masked with  balaclava-like coverings, dance in traditional Welsh clogs. The rhythmic moves follow the music effectively and the piece gains a new dimension with this bold choice. This, alongside reforming the character of ‘Nurse’ as Juliet’s friend Cerys, firmly places this production in Wales. This multi-national company of artists clearly place importance on reclaiming the narrative, embracing difference and accepting otherness.

In terms of staging, two metal chain curtains, one downstage left and one upstage right, fly in and out to help break and vary the space. The projections, used throughout, are abstract and pleasing, especially the stained-glass church window. The infamous balcony scene, leading to a lovely lyrical duet, is framed by shadows of tree branches and a somewhat predictable outline of a balcony door. This feels slightly cliché, and also slightly unnecessary as the balcony is already physically there, a white block with black railing which transforms into the tomb in the second act. The only other piece of set is Juliet’s bed, with glossy white sheets of virginal innocence.

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Georg Meyer-Weil, who designed the set, also managed the costume, which is modern and simple, yet effective and demonstrative. Montague’s find themselves in mossy green, stern Capulet’s in deep blue, the exhilaratingly effervescent and feminine Mercutio (Miguel Fernandes) in a fiery red jacket, and Robbie Moorcroft’s masculine and muscular Tybalt in silver and grey. I must say I rather liked the hoodie used which was only formed of one sleeve and a hood, abstract and not restrictive for the dancer.

Danilla Marzilli’s Juliet is at the centre of the show. Her adagio solos in a white dress with flowing hair were truly touching. Her pointe-work, especially en arrière, was fluid and gentle, and her overall technique felt intentionally grounded and playful, compared to the rigidity of the rest of her family. Special shout-out to Joshua Feist too, who gives a lovely and persistent Paris.

It would have been lovely to see more younger faces in the crowd, perhaps discovering ballet or understanding how to interpret and stage a classic in an exciting way. Hopefully the Northcott’s U26 scheme will make this possible in the future.

Massive congratulations to this company of twelve exceptionally hard-working and talented artists.

Josip Martinčić

 

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