13/2/10, Royal Opera House Covent Garden
Written by Penelope
The story of Shakespeare’s doomed youthful lovers has been popular for more than four hundred years, so it’s remarkable to realise that it’s only been performed as a ballet for less than fifty. Kenneth MacMillan’s choreography and Prokofiev’s evocative score feel like they’ve been around almost as long as the story.
This season the Royal Ballet uses several well known dancers to play the principal roles. We saw Sarah Lamb as Juliet and Ivan Putrov as Romeo. And it’s Lamb who steals the show. MacMillan deliberately left the dancers to choose how to interpret the music and the mood, he didn’t strictly choreograph every single step and movement. It was fascinating to see how Lamb’s body changes as the play progresses. At the start she’s an awkward, shy 13 year old Juliet. She’s introduced to a suitor, Paris, and she’s all stiff limbs, with a straight body and a slightly gauche innocence. When she meets Romeo at the Capulet masked ball, she starts to fall in love and her movements become more fluid as they dance around each other, jumping, smiling and circling one another. The jumps and holds are smooth and there is a yearning in their bodies as they get to know each other.
The story takes place over only three days, and the couple fall in love quickly and we watch them dance after their secret wedding and night together. Lamb curls her arm around the back of Putrov’s head in a beautifully tender gesture. Gorgeous.
Once Romeo is banished, for killing Tybalt (an excellent ‘villain’ by Bennet Gartside), Juliet’s parents re-introduce the hapless Paris. Now she cannot bear to look at him or be touched by him. She keeps her limbs taut and straight.
At the end of the play, the two feuding families, Capulets and Montagues, are reconciled by the death of the couple. The ballet doesn’t give us a hopeful ending. We watch the heartbreak as Romeo believes a sleeping Juliet to be dead, and kills himself in despair. She awakes, too late, to find him lying there. Her moves are sensuous and she can’t stop touching him. She stabs herself and dies with her arm out towards him. Putrov is a perfect foil for Lamb, though he lacked the emotional intensity in the later scenes. She deserved the curtain calls and ovations of an entranced audience.
The Opera House orchestra were faultless, with the familiar surging Prokofiev strings in the Capulet ball. The costumes, from the original designs of Nicholas Georgiadis in the 1960’s were sumptuous – red and gold brocade, sweeping capes, beautiful puffed sleeves. Juliet begins in a pale blue little girl’s dress and then later wears a diaphanous ivory sheath. I’d seen the play, but I wasn’t sure how it would work without Shakespeare’s verse. I found that one of the most famous love stories ever written is also a beautiful, moving and memorable ballet.