It’s a very sweet thing to see Carlos Acosta and Tamara Rojo dance Romeo and Juliet (R&J) together on the English National Ballet stage. It was ENB that really brought each to prominence in London, and it was Rojo who created the role of Juliet in this 1998 Derek Deane production. She was only 22 but undaunted by the responsibility of communicating to 5,000-seats. At the Royal Ballet they became regular partners, their bodies seeming to meld perfectly, and they last danced R&J there only in 2012, to much critical praise. Ditto a year earlier at the 12,000 seat O2 Arena. When I first heard of ENB reviving this production I wondered if Tamara might have Roberto Bolle guest – he was the original Romeo, and is a big international name, of course. But she made the right choice for sure and in the autumn of their dancing careers they put on a stunning display that brought many in the audience to their feet come the end.
The production itself is serviceable and actually gets better the fewer the dancers on stage – rather the opposite of the in-the-round Swan Lake which delivers its spine-shivering power from having so many (swans) on stage. Act 1 of Romeo with all its market square buzz and later the masked ball, is all about a stage groaning with dancers, but amidst the masks and headgear the principal characters can sometimes be lost in the middle, very lost in the middle if you sit too near the stage. Like the Royal Ballet R&J the townsfolk are encouraged to have their own characters and little everyday stories can play out near you on stage – quite absorbing, but you can easily be missing important action elsewhere. That said, a strong element of the production is the dancers using the entrance gangways on all sides of the auditorium to get on and off the stage – it’s used much more than in Swan Lake and really adds excitement and draws you in. But it’s in Acts 2 and 3 it all homes in much more on the essential characters and where the power of Rojo and Acosta to project out really hits us all.
Carlos Acosta was in good form, I thought, and jumping well – not where he was but still mightily impressive. He needed to be on form with Yonah Acosta as Mercutio and Junor Souza as Benvolio – his larky mates in chasing girls – both of whom impressed so much with their athletic abilities in Le Corsaire. Souza confines himself to acting as a 21st century lad, out on the pull, but Yonah is more nuanced in his acting – if a shame that Mercutio’s death at the hands of Tybalt seems way too protracted. Fabian Reimair’s Tybalt is well drawn and thoroughly nasty: kicking a mortally-wounded Mercutio shows the depth of hatred – to stab is not enough. Tybalt’s own death comes quicker, the harlots rejoicing more and Lady Capulet’s grief the deeper than we see at the Opera House. There are more plausible little twists in Jane Haworth’s Lady Capulet as she ferociously casts away Lord Capulet, ineffectually trying to console her – nothing comes between her and Tybalt.
Michael Coleman’s Prince of Verona also impressed – up there with the much-missed (at RB) Leslie Edwards for his portrayal of weary, despairing princely authority. Elsewhere I liked Begona Cao’s Rosaline, making quiet eyes at Romeo and he in return. And Daniele Silingardi’s Paris is a delightfully ineffectual affair – only a desperate girl would go there. The role also features one of the all-time-worst stage hats – it shrieks ‘dork’. There is much to like in the drama of this production, though I wish more was made of the 4 Harlots’ dancing abilities.
When unveiled back in 1998 the production featured a balcony on wheels that followed Acosta around the stage – a very odd lapse in taste which provided much mirth. Now corrected, the Balcony is still on wheels but just to get it out more towards the middle of the stage and then to withdraw it – it works. But to be honest nothing would really come between the Rojo/Acosta partnership and the audience. Neither of them is starry or precious in life and their portrayal is reality. Only on Sunday’s Desert Island Discs Rojo was talking about falling in love with her leading man each night and here it was before us in real time. And when she dies, head on Romeo’s chest you do feel they conquered all and are finally together for eternity. But no eternity for dancers of course, so see them while you can, because I very much doubt you will see the pair of them again when R&J next returns.