Krzysztof Pastor’s Romeo and Juliet for Scottish Ballet is a bit of all right. I didn’t think this in the first act, but by the end of the second I rather warmed to this compressed 20th century take on what is now a ballet staple.
It’s very much a contemporary production with stripped-back sets and atmosphere created by a projected street scene in front of which walls and windows drop to give various interiors. Much has been made of the time-shifting aspects of this production, starting in the 1930s, resetting to the ’50s (scooters for all!) and then the ’90s, all illustrated with short newsreel-style videos of the period. I can take or leave the time shifting, and all the dramaturgy (Willem Bruls) about recent Italian political history, but it’s there to really show that, regardless of time, violence and hatred in Italy, be it family, Mafia or political is always a reality for some, skulking away in the background to life.
For those used to the MacMillan, and similar, productions, there is no Nurse character, or Prince of Verona, but Friar Laurence is much more in evidence in trying to quell confrontations. Also to the fore are the Parents, particularly the Capulet parents – the men very much Mafioso-like bosses in style, directing things. Ultimately it’s the Capulet father that surreptitiously gives Tybalt the dagger to kill Mercutio. The designs are colour-coded – the Capulets in black (black shirts), the Montagues in brown (and a little softer in personality), while Romeo and friends are in light grey – white would be too innocent. Everybody is clearly delineated.
The first act seems choreographically very light and the warring families endlessly hopping and lunging forward and backwards towards one another. The balcony scene struggles at first – the balcony way too insignificant and the use of mirrors behind dancers also confuses the action at times. But once Pastor gets down to duets and individual characters things look up and his more contemporary dance palette makes for unexpected freshness to such well- warn and loved music. Although his movement is as unfussy as dress-down Friday, in the bedroom and tomb scenes he delivers handsome images of love and grief.
Lucy Ribchester reviewed this revival when it was first shown in Glasgow but I particularly wanted to see the Saturday matinee with Scottish Ballet’s youngest cast who only made their debut together 4 weeks ago. Coryphee Remi Andreoni as Romeo had a good show, which is just as well as his family were over from Toulouse and there was much congratulating going on outside the Wells after the performance. A terrific jump but a most convincing actor who really did seem an innocent caught up in a big boys’ world. His Juliet was soloist Bethany Kingsley-Garner who gave a really feisty portrayal – no timorous waif who finds internal strength from somewhere when needed, but a thoroughly modern girl equipped for anything in life. They worked together well and one fancied that had they not died so violently, their complementary personalities would have seen them a happily married couple for many a long year. The casting overall was strong with Claire Robertson (who was to be Juliet at the evening performance) being the Capulet wife and Sophie Martin, the first cast Juliet, one of Juliet’s two friends. The entire company is on stage, plus they have 6-8 actors too – there is no shortage of dance umph which you sometimes feel with companies of this size. There is also no shortage of musical impetus – under Enrique Carreon-Robledo the score was taken at a fast lick, and the strings sounded particularly vibrant. Finally I must mention Victor Zarallo as Tybalt, for 5-star nastiness atop particularly generous technique. No surprise then to see that this week both Zarallo and Andreoni, our Romeo, have been promoted to Soloists.
All up this is a modern, unfussy take on R&J: The main attraction is perhaps not the choreography but the interesting telling and the dancing/acting of Scottish Ballet – they sparkle, or as they say in Italy: “scintillare”.