Krzysztof Pastor created Romeo & Juliet for Scottish Ballet in 2008 and the piece quickly became a favourite in the repertory of the company. It has been staged thrice since its premiere and its 2014 revival has been chosen to showcase the dancers of the company at Sadler’s Wells. The performance on opening night revealed the innovative perspective of Pastor’s revision and allowed some brilliant performances from Scottish Ballet dancers. 

Pastor’s version of Romeo & Juliet proposes a twist in the well-known tragedy. Rather than a tale of eternal love, it portrays a story of everlasting rivalry. Instead of the power of love, it stresses the power of hate. The confrontation between the Capulets and the Montagues forms the main narrative line of the ballet, overshadowing the love story between Romeo and Juliet. The time setting, which covers several decades, stresses the everlasting quality of hatred and its far-reaching ability to destroy love. Each act of the ballet is set in a different time (the 1930s, the 1950s and the 1990s) though the characters are always the same, suggesting that the story recurs in different moments with the same tragic end.

One of the main assets of the ballet resides in this innovative presentation of the story through different time settings. A number of dramatic devices are used to mark the temporal progression, such as the use of video images and the repetition of certain choreographic patterns. A big screen at the back of the stage projects images of Italy in different decades at the beginning of each temporal sequence. As the story progresses, these scenes are preceded by images of death and destruction that foreshadow the tragic ending. Accompanying these visual cues, the shift in time and the destructive effects of the timeless enmity are conveyed by a compelling recurrent sequence where Juliet, sorrowful and powerless, crosses a stage filled with dead bodies.

Pastor’s use of Prokofiev’s rich score is also very original. Though he respects the main structural division in acts and scenes, he does not always follow the scenario that Prokofiev drafted to inspire his melodic and rhythmic patterns. For instance, in Pastor’s ballet, the melodies composed for each of the main characters lose most of their identifying features, gaining prominence in suggesting the general mood and atmosphere of each scene instead.

On the opening night at Sadler’s Wells, Pastor’s Romeo & Juliet featured some stellar performances from Scottish Ballet dancers. Daniel Davidson’s Mercutio and Owen Thorne’s Tybalt proved to be excellent vehicles for the confrontation that separates the two clans. The former’s playfully provocative role and the latter’s proudly arrogant character condensed the friction that sparks the flame of violence in the story. With clear and seemingly effortless dancing, Davidson portrayed a charming yet inflammatory Mercutio whereas Thorne danced his Tybalt with a commanding composure and elegant sobriety. Erik Cavallari, as Capulet, was the third authoritative presence on stage. The brilliant performance of these three male dancers gave the evening a very masculine flavour. By contrast, the conciliatory role of Romeo, played shyly by Christopher Harrison, lacked the force that could have provided the love story with a chance to prosper. More convincing as a lover, Harrison partnered Claire Robertson’s Juliet with sweet delicacy.

On the female side, Robertson’s interpretation of Juliet filled the role with a mixture of tender passion and pathos whereas Kara McLaughlin performed a dutiful yet affectionate Lady Capulet. The rest of the cast was dynamic and precise in the lively group dances of the ballet.