By Kate Wilson
After being blown away by Australian Dance Theatre's G at BREC last week and having now seen West Australian Ballet's Romeo and Juliet, I have to say I am becoming a huge fan of Aussie-produced dance.
I'll start by saying that I'm a bit of a Shakespeare enthusiast and I've seen half a dozen productions of Romeo and Juliet the play as well as being in one. (OK, so I'm a lot of a Shakespeare enthusiast.) I was kind of skeptical about seeing a ballet version, because for me Shakespeare is all about the language, so I wasn't sure how I would feel about not getting to hear all my favourite lines.
Well, it didn't take long for Romeo and Juliet to win me over. I was thoroughly impressed by the grace and skill of the dancers, and I especially loved the way the choreography told the story and made the performance so accessible to all ages, because there were lots of young aspiring ballerinas in the audience (some are pictured below). The sets and lighting were lovely, but the stage was really lit up by the stunning 1930s era costumes which were an artwork in themselves. Men in suits, ties and suspenders and ladies in soft, floaty floral dresses, and the ballroom scene all in black with lacy, sparkly, low-backed dresses and pinstripe suits… it was a feast for the eyes and a fashion throwback with no cringe-factor whatsoever. I wish everyone would dress like this now!
I'm quite the opposite of a dance expert so I can't go into any technical detail, but I will share a couple of moments of the performance that I particularly enjoyed.
One of things that stood out to me was Paris's solo. Paris is such a great character and I thought the dancer playing him did a stellar job of getting across the sleaze-factor when he meets Juliet at the Capulet's ball. The dance solo where Paris attempted to woo Juliet was perfectly pompous and grandiose and I found it hilarious. Now that I think of it, the humour in the show was really well played - there was lots of lighthearted laughter from the audience as the action rolled along. Something I've always loved about R&J is the way it places the tragedy of the couple within a fun, youthful context that contrasts the intensity of the events that ensue. This production really captured that contrast and delivered a nice balance of tragedy and comedy.
The major highlight for me was the opening of Act 2. We had just had 15 minute intermission and the curtain went up on a street scene where Romeo and Juliet see each other again. (Not exactly how it happens in the play; they completely did away with the character of the nurse, who is the one that actually goes to meet Romeo in the street in this scene, but I had to keep reminding myself, 'this isn't the play!') The dancing in this scene was so much fun, mostly due to the addition of some younger cast members who played street kids. Their smiles, energy and talent radiated through their dirty faces and torn clothes. There were some impressive acrobatic moves in the street scene, and one boy who spun around on one leg for a very long time!
I can't sign off without mentioning the big fight scene. I. Love. Stage fights. Firstly, Mercutio's death = perfect. Ballet or no ballet, anyone who knows the play will agree that Mercutio's death is a dance, so actually having him dance-stumble around dying for a minute or two was apt. (Loved the use of bananas, too. Just the sort of thing you'd expect Merc to carry around in his pants.) Secondly, the SWORD FIGHT! Didn't think I was going to see any sword action after Mercutio got shot, but thankfully, Romeo and Tybalt went at it with swords in both hands! It was super-cool to witness sword fighting and ballet dancing both at the same time. Win!
So. I was impressed. My expectations were shattered in the best possible way. And you know what? It didn't matter that there were no words, because I found myself reciting the lines in my head. R&J was choreographed in such a way that there were moments where Shakespeare's dialogue almost sang out of the action.
Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight!
For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night.
- Romeo, Act 1, Scene 5