Following its success with a new production of The Nutcracker in December, the English National Ballet has another triumph on its hands with a revival of Rudolf Nureyev’s 1977 version of Romeo and Juliet.
High on drama, and with more than its fair share of twists and turns, this undoubtedly strong production is brought to life by a cast that could have been made for it.
Highlighting the notion of inevitability that stands at the heart of the story, death pervades the nostrils from the off as cloaked figures appear under subdued lighting before a cart carrying bodies rattles across the stage.
Ironically, this takes place against the backdrop of Piero della Francesca’s Renaissance painting, The Ideal City, highlighting the gulf between the world that the feuding families aspire to, and that which they have helped to create.
We are then whisked away to a bustling Market Square where the riotous dancing is offset by the quality of poise and pose. The sudden removal of the market stalls immediately turns a scuffle into something much more sinister, and the heat and temper in the fight make it seem as if the ballet itself could collapse into anarchy at any moment. The chaos that Nureyev has created is only just superseded by his ability as a choreographer to control it.
It is also telling that as Romeo’s friends mock his rejection by Rosaline (Begoña Cao), they form rings and lines that see alternate figures facing in opposite directions. As well as emulating Matisse’s The Dance, it is a symbol of the rough and ready nature of the band, which only makes the nimbleness and precision in their dancing all the more extraordinary.
At the ball the sheer extent to which the dance feels tortuous and tormented is striking. Tybalt (Fabian Reimair) starts it off, by twisting with and about his partner, and although the company soon joins him to march forward the advance is never linear. As the men drop to their knees like Russian Cossacks it feels symbolic of how low the Capulets are capable of stooping, while the brandishing of swords makes clear their lust for power. At one point they slash at a tablecloth erected to simulate a chessboard, only to see the Nurse (Laura Hussey) jump out from behind it. In their pursuit of glory, how close have they come to causing death?
In the Act Two fight between Tybalt and Mercutio (Juan Rodríguez) nothing is as we might expect. The idea that this is a scuffle that neither side ever intended to go so far is taken to extremes by seeing Mercutio jovially carried aloft after he has been stabbed, his friends only realising that he is not playing the fool once he is lying motionless. It is also significant that both characters are killed not by the sword but with a dagger that Juliet then brandishes as if to foretell her own fate. In contrast, once the men are dead, the entire cast stand motionless which superficially seems at odds with the music swelling from the pit (conductor Gavin Sutherland in sure command). The only exceptions are Juliet who flaps hysterically and the Prince of Verona (Michael Coleman) who exiles Romeo with a single movement of his arm.
Rising above this are two incredible performances by Vadim Muntagirov and Daria Klimentová in the title roles. Having also taken the leads for ENB in Swan Lake and The Nutcracker they are really shaping into a dream team. Both have extraordinary suppleness, agility and grace, and together they are captivating, taking turns to press their hands to each other’s cheeks in a gesture of love.
Nureyev originally choreographed the ballet for himself and Patricia Ruanne, but Muntagirov, still only twenty, feels very much in the Nureyev mould, and these steps could have made for this pair. As Muntagirov lifts Klimentová gently, turns her tightly, or simply holds her as she ‘stands’ motionless in mid-air, we witness quite exceptional dancing of a certainly exceptional ballet.