This is ballet at its finest. Shakespeare’s immortal story, Prokoviev’s rich music, Cranko’s now classic choreography, Jurgen Rose’s rich designs, with the touring Autralian Ballet in top form. The final Saturday night of the too short Brisbane season gave audiences a treat.
South African-born Cranko choreographed this version for the Stuttgart Ballet in 1962, and it was soon adopted by the Australian Ballet. Age has not wearied it. The work is as fresh and delightful as when it first graced the Opera House stage in 1974.
During its current four-city tour, AB has been sharing the key roles among its talented array of principal artists. Saturday night featured Robert Curran and Lucinda Dunn, who interact charmingly as the lovelorn couple. Dunn captures the spirited young girl’s initial carefree youth and her reluctance to engage with her prescribed suitor, Paris, as well as her instant fascination for the gate-crashing Romeo when she first catches sight of him over Paris’s back. Curran is a gentle Romeo, a “sensitive new age guy”, whose shy joie de vivre works well in his capers with companions Mercutio (Matthew Lawrence) and Benvolio (Matthew Donnelly).
Steven Heathcote is a commanding and no-nonsense Tybalt. While many may have preferred to see him as the hero (he is one of the five Romeos), it was also nice to see him in this “bad guy” role, which he dances exuberantly and to perfection.
Lisa Bolte makes a lovely Lady Capulet, much closer in age to the actual Shakespearean character than are most actresses in the role. Julie Day is a motherly nurse. Tristan Message shows dignity as a rebuffed Paris, while Vetern Colin Peasley shows his versatility as Duke and Friar.
The corps and soloists are vibrant and entertaining in the market scenes, whether in selling their wares, flirtatious play, fruit fights or getting in the way of the duelling rivals. The audience’s attention simply never flags with the variety of scenes and the strong and uncluttered narrative thrust of the choreography.
The Queensland Orchestra produces a rich sound under Nicolette Fraillon’s expert direction, bringing out the best both in strings and Prokoviev’s liking of deeper brasses and woodwinds.
The production also includes lovely moments of stillness and quietness which serve to counterpoint the vigour of the crowd scenes. Juliet’s morning bedroom scene is lovely, with its extended and subtle evocation of the night of love.
I was amused to read Shakespeare director John Bell’s account (in the sumptuous $15 AB program) of taking his two tiny daughters to see this production in 1974: “The tots were mesmerised from the start, but when it came to the scene of the morning after the lovers’ wedding night, I noticed my younger daughter becoming increasingly agitated. As the extended pas de deux went on with the lovers traipsing languidly around the bedroom amidst diaphonous curtains, she eventually leaned across to me and whispered anxiously ‘Don’t they have to go to work?'”
I hope this Romeo and Juliet stays in the Australian Ballet’s repertoire for at least another 30 years. It is a ballet everyone should have the opportunity to see.