It was 50 years ago that Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn stood in front of the red velvet, ‘ER II’ embroidered curtains of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and took 43 bows after the première of Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. The first night proved a huge success for this masterpiece of action, colour and drama and over the succeeding years, the ballet has become one of the most popular productions, not just in The Royal Ballet’s repertoire but worldwide. And there are few ballerinas who, when asked to name their dream role, don’t respond quickly, “Juliet”.
Like policemen, the harlots too seemed to have become younger – and somewhat tidier. Their fuzzy hair was not as wild, and the three of them – Itziar Mendizabal, Olivia Cowley and Helen Crawford – sprang like wild cats across the stage, exciting the male townsfolk especially when, far too often, they lewdly lifted their skirts and spread their legs wide to show off their ‘wares’.
The role of Paris was performed by Ryoichi Hirano who made an elegant partner, gently lifting Juliet (Sarah Lamb) and carefully placing her in their ballroom pas de deux, showing her off to best effect. Romeo’s two pals, Mercutio (Alexander Campbell) and Benvolio (Tristan Dyer), blazed across the stage having fun together as the wild boys of Verona, keeping their audiences on stage (and off) amused with their antics. Campbell made a cheeky-faced, bubbly Mercutio, light-footed and completely fearless, ready to take on any encounter with a Capulet. He showed off tidy footwork in his speedy dancing.
Another notable small cameo role was performed by Marcelino Sambé in the Mandolin Dance. A quicksilver turner, a high leaper with clean landings teamed with natural exuberance, made his short appearance memorable.
And so to the leading couple, Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae, whose roles demand much of them – from the continuously changing dramatic content of the ballet to all the beautiful but exhausting dancing involved. Lamb is a dainty and perfectly proportioned ballerina with porcelain-doll like features – pale luminous skin, large blue eyes and blonde hair. She looks deceptively fragile, but here as Juliet, she exudes strength and determination throughout.
The role requires Lamb to change from a doll-loving 13 year old who receives an unexpected proposal from a future husband, to the catalyst of events that fuel her every action up to the tragic events that lead to her and Romeo’s deaths. She quickly discovers a burgeoning passion within her – there is no shyness in her meeting with Romeo in the garden when she places his hand on her heart, and during the wedding ceremony, where she kept her eyes open in prayer, peeking at him. Lamb is very musical and her dancing offers thistledown soft leaping, textbook-perfect beautiful lines and exacting placement. But occasionally, it would be good to see her take a risk and be spontaneous.
The loudest clapping and cheering was rightly given to the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, whose playing under conductor Koen Kessels was rich in tone and expression.
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