Birmingham Royal Ballet’s new production of Romeo and Juliet retains the classic choreography by Kenneth MacMillan but uses new designs by Paul Andrews. These subtly show the differences between the warring families. The Montagues are dressed in pastel shades of turquoise whilst the deep crimson of the Capulets has a more authoritarian feel. This becomes clear in the famous march that opens the party at the Capulets.
During Sergey Prokofiev’s stirring music the dancers move with military precision.This sequence shows also the environment in which Juliet was raised. As the dance concludes with the women kneeling submissively at the feet of the men it makes clear the courage that Juliet needs to oppose the wishes of her father.
As with most productions the character of Juliet dominates this one. Nao Sakuma takes the character from a naïve child still playing with dolls through an increasing awareness of her growing sexuality until, by the tragic conclusion, her passion matches the soaring melodies. Sakuma’s dancing is technically excellent. She retreats from her first meeting with her would-be suitor Paris (Tyrone Singleton) en pointe.
The tiptoe technique shows both her hesitancy and timidity but also her innocence – there is no sense of her teasing Paris. When she repeats the technique at their final meeting it is with a feeling of repugnance at the insensitivity of her family. The interaction between Sakuma and the other dancers is marvellous. When Singleton lifts her high she is rigid but she wraps herself around Chi Cao’s Romeo with absolute trust.
Robert Parker’s Tybalt is another product of the dysfunctional Capulets; aloof and even cruel he seems disgusted with himself after stooping to a cowardly attack on Mercutio (Alexander Campbell). On the other hand Romeo and his friends are represented less successfully as mischievous scamps rather than hard-drinking eternal bachelors. The Lowry Lyric is a big stage and it is thrilling to see it full during the sword fight that opens Act One and the wedding procession in Act Two. The latter features a mandolin dance in which the highly stylised costumes makes the participants look like they are on fire as they move. Unfortunately they look a bit silly when standing still.
For a love story the atmosphere of the ballet is surprisingly oppressive and the lighting by John B. Read gives us a Verona full of shadows. Even in the balcony scene the young lovers seem in danger of being absorbed by the gloom.
The Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Paul Murphy provides a lively interpretation with the percussionists enjoying the chance to cut loose with the thunderous beat.
Although not without the odd flaw, the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s version of Romeo and Juliet remains a fine piece of work and well worth a visit.