Royal New Zealand Ballet - Romeo and Juliet
16 August 2017, St James Theatre, Wellington
Reviewed by Lyne Pringle
Francesco Ventriglia’s production of Romeo and Juliet for the Royal New Zealand Ballet has spectacular design elements; with sets, lighting and costumes that superbly evoke the setting of Shakespeare’s timeless masterpiece –15th century Verona. The genius is in the details of religious iconography, multiple props, masks and an extraordinary use of palette and light. James Acheson (design) and Jon Buswell (lighting) plus the whole design team, deserve congratulations – it is epic. I have rarely seen a set so impressively choreographed. Indeed, so grand is the scale, that the stage and dancers seem swamped by the opulence on display. One suspects that this production has been created with ambitions towards larger international stages and audiences.
Ventriglia acknowledges the impact that Kenneth McMillan’s version of the work had on him as a young dancer and he nods towards this great choreographer in his world premiere. I also see the outrageous spirit of the great filmmaker, Fellini. Choreographically the work follows a fairly well-trodden path. The chorus in the grand masked ball scene is powerful as Ventriglia successfully conjures Renaissance dance. Also in this scene, with the use of freeze frame and the slow motion withdrawal of the chorus to the background, he creates a clever filmic quality of a ‘close up’ or zooming in on the lovers – these moments are inventive and start to take this traditional form into new territory. The levels on the stairs, which take up a large portion of the stage, are used to great effect. Throughout the work there is clever use of foreground and background. Choreographically the work lifts off during the testosterone fuelled sword fighting scene, in the maids dance in Juliet’s bedroom and in the lover’s duets, there is inventive use of partnering and moments of delicate musicality.
Joseph Skelton is convincing as Romeo, the dreamy hero. He has effortless technique, albeit with a very internalized focus. Madeleine Graham as Juliet, eases into the work and finds more nuance in her character in later Acts. She is convincing in her despair in Act III. Her technique is flawless and her artistry deeply expressed. Together they dance with chemistry and complicité to physicalize the archetypal lovers at the core of the ballet.
There are two wonderful actors in the production: Abigail Boyle as Lady Capulet – utterly captivating in her anguish at the death of her nephew, Tybalt, danced strongly by Paul Matthews and Massimo Margaria as Mercutio, presenting a believable and quirky rendering of this character. The remaining dancers of the company fulfil the other roles with commitment and verve.
Vector Wellington Orchestra, under the assured baton of Hamish McKeich, brings the highly textured Prokofiev score to life with sonorous precision. Like the set, the score is an epic undertaking.
There are glimpses of new perspectives in this production, but as with most traditional ballets the choreography, in servicing the score, halts the momentum of the story, with divertissement and bland mimetic sequences. However, despite this, there are many uplifting moments in Ventriglia's sumptuous Romeo and Juliet.
Choreography - Francesco Ventriglia
Costume & set design - James Acheson
Music - Sergei Prokofiev
Music arranged by - Nigel Gaynor
Lighting design - Jon Buswell
Conductor - Hamish McKeich