Ballet Cymru is a small company with big ambitions. Under the artistic direction of Darius James, it tours to around 50 venues across the UK each year with a range of new and innovative ballets featuring just ten dancers.
I saw the company for the first time in 2012 when it performed a double bill of The Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood inspired by Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, and was an instant fan. The dancers were talented not only technically but as actors, and the choreography was inventive and fun.
Ballet Cymru’s latest work, Romeo and Juliet, is, on the whole, another triumph for this determined company. It’s no mean feat to attempt a renowned Shakespearean tragedy with such a small cast, and whilst there are elements that could use refinement, the ballet feels fresh and is exciting to watch.
On Saturday at the Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre, Emily Pimm Edwards made a passionate Juliet, shining particularly when in the loving arms of Daniel Morrison as Romeo. Their balcony pas de deux, which combined classical technique including large lifts with modern touches, felt instinctive and heartfelt. Their deathly final pas de deux was less spontaneous, with more than a passing resemblance to Kenneth MacMillan’s choreography, but it still made for a touching and dramatic ending.
Inevitably, the problem of a small budget and a youthful company meant that Lady Capulet looked younger than her daughter. Presumably to avoid the same problem, the Nurse was also transmuted into Juliet’s friend, although fulfilling all of the same roles of the original character. Nevertheless, both dancers – Iselin Bowen and Lydia Arnoux respectively – gave engaging performances, with Bowen particularly convincing as she mourned the death of her onstage nephew.
The choreography took some liberties with Shakespeare’s play. At one end of the spectrum, the Capulet ball became more a dance of intimidation than celebration, with party guests loudly stamping their clogged feet and creating a powerful scene that matched the dynamism of Prokofiev’s music. At the other, less successful end, Romeo was turned into an almost angelic figure, trying to make peace with his enemies and only killing Tybalt through self-defence. I don’t think he (or the ballet) benefitted from his being reduced to such a one-dimensional (all good) character.
The set and costumes by Georg Meyer-Weil were undoubtedly the production’s most disappointing elements. Designs were peculiar and mismatched, including a skirt made of sleeves and collars stitched together for Juliet’s ball gown, a hoodie for Romeo, a leather skirt for the priest, and a huge fake tattoo on Tybalt’s chest. The metal curtain set also made for noisy and distracting scene changes, and the images projected onto the backdrop were indistinguishable. I would have preferred to see the dancers in simple leotards and on a plain stage, as, far from enhancing the choreography, these design aspects actually detracted from the rest of the performance.
Prokofiev’s score was played beautifully in pre-recorded accompaniment by the Sinfonia Cymru and the intimacy of the Lilian Baylis theatre also worked well – I felt more like a guest at Romeo and Juliet’s wedding than a mere audience member and observer.
Ballet Cymru is a company that is hard not to like. Now 27 years old, it’s still going strong and I look forward to seeing what innovative ballets it will choose to offer next.
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