Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean,
From forth fatal loins of these two foes,
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life
– William Shakespeare
This is a story of power gone wrong.
How can young love blossom in the midst of a blood feud between two families?
The sheer, startling virtuosity of Juliet danced by international guest artist Tamara Rojo gives flickering hope that love might just prevail amidst the senseless hatred and slaughter of the ‘ancient grudge’ between the Capulet and Montague households.
Artistic director Li Cunxin continues his classical emphasis. He uses the brilliant choreography of Sir Kenneth MacMillan whose Romeo & Juliet opened to rapturous acclaim at Covent Garden on 9 February, 1965.
The ballet is a case study of what happens when the rule of law breaks down. Escalus, Prince of Verona (Christian Tatchev), despite his surrounding pomp and majesty, seems incapable of restraining the young men of the two families from engaging in murderous sword fights.
Blithely disregarding this family hostility, Romeo Montague (Matthew Lawrence) finds himself besotted with Juliet Capulet, danced magnificently by Tamara Rojo.
One of the most stirring, martial pieces known to music is Prokofiev’s ‘Dance of the Knights’ performed at the ball of the Capulets. It presages the dark events that are to follow. Lady Capulet (danced exquisitely by Clare Morehen) alone holds out the hope of a finer sensibility, but even her grace and love cannot ultimately save her nephew Tybalt and later her daughter Juliet from the bloody events to follow.
The passionate pas de deux danced by Juliet (Tamara Rojo) and Romeo (Matthew Lawrence) well illustrates Shakespeare’s words that ‘love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs’.
Then the tragedy unfolds.
The lovers are secretly married by Friar Laurence (also danced ably by Christian Tatchev).
Alas, in the very next scene Juliet’s cousin Tybalt (Vito Bernasconi) fights with Romeo’s close friend Mercutio (Daniel Gaudiello) and kills him. Romeo avenges the death of his friend and is exiled.
In a display of parental pigheadedness Lord Capulet is insisting that his daughter Juliet marry Paris (Hao Bin) despite her adamant refusal. Juliet rebuffs Paris in a pas de deux as chilling as a danse macabre. Juliet turns to her mother Lady Capulet (Clare Morehen) for protection but to no avail.
Juliet’s elaborate plan hatched with Friar Laurence to avoid marriage by the use of a drug to feign death tragically backfires. Romeo finds Juliet apparently lifeless, kills himself and lies prone on the ground next to her bed. Upon Juliet awakening she sees her beloved Romeo dead and takes her own life. Poignantly, she leans backwards over the edge of the bed arching her back orthogonally as her limp hands reach out for her deceased lover. Even golden-thighed Pythagoras would weep at a right angle expressing such wrong.
Tamara Rojo’s performance as Juliet is a breathtaking study in artistic excellence. She is in an honoured tradition. Devotees of the Queensland Ballet will similarly recall the wondrous beauty of performances of Juliet by Michelle Giammichele in 1995 and by Rachael Walsh in 2006 and 2010. Those who witness this current performance will be fortunate indeed.
For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.
Artistic director: Li Cunxin
Choreographer: Sir Kenneth MacMillan
Music: Sergei Prokofiev
Music director and principal conductor: Andrew Mogrelia
Designer: Paul Andrews
Lighting designer: John B. Read
Lighting re-created by Jana Perry
Queensland Symphony Orchestra
Concert Master: Warwick Adeney
Duration: 2 hours 50 minutes (including one 20 minute interval and one 15 minute interval)
Performances: 27 June to 5 July 2014
Coda: The twilight performance on 1st July featured couple Meng Ningning and Hao Bin, who entranced the audience with their skills and characterisation. From their first meeting to Juliet’s silent scream at the conclusion, they portrayed the lovers’ tragedy with energy, flair and emotion. – John Henningham