Rudolf Nureyev’s Romeo & Juliet, created in 1977, is a bit of a cumbersome beast, its overstuffed narrative at times ploddingly faithful to Shakespeare’s play (although not even Bill gave this much stage time to the hapless suitor Paris). There are some rather garish flourishes to remind us that death stalks young Romeo and Juliet – not least the opening of Act 3, when the Grim Reaper mounts Juliet on her bed. It’s also a thrustingly masculine interpretation, with big all-male ensemble pieces dotted throughout, including testosterone-fuelled sword dancing at the Capulets’ ball, and a boisterous, ribald energy that flashes into violence or cruelty. In short, it’s not a patch on MacMillan.
What a joy, then, to have the Paris Opera Ballet etoile Josua Hoffalt dancing Romeo during this ENB 40th anniversary revival. Crystalline technique, easy grace, endless leg extension and a prince-like assurance mean his star cross’d lover immediately, effortlessly stands out from the brawling crowd.
Hoffalt brings an elegantly mature intelligence to the part, which is much needed in the twisty, tricksy, often over-complicated choreography of the various pas de deux with Juliet, where the chances of her looking like a sack of spuds are alarmingly high. Hoffalt adroitly avoids this, and allows Laurretta Summerscales to keep shimmering with wide-eyed delight. Her dancing is vivid and compelling here, so that even though Nureyev seems to have sidelined Juliet in her own story, she makes her mark. Starting out as a girl bubbling with sugar-rush excitement, she finds a convincing chemistry with Hoffalt. And when she is forced into marriage with Paris, she radiates a frantic agony.
Summerscales will leave a hole in the company when she takes her sabbatical next season – as will the permanent departure of her fiancé, Yonah Acosta, who here proved an absolutely captivating presence on stage. He radiates swaggering confidence as he makes Mercutio into a flamboyant showman, cheeky provocateur and relentless joker – a bristling energy powers his leaps and spins. And his drawn-out death, during which his friends all think he’s clowning about, is genuinely affecting. What a marvellous dancer he has become.
Fabian Reimair is a wonderfully malevolent Tybalt – a seething mass of anger with a nifty proficiency at swordplay. And Amber Hunt’s naughty nurse is vibrantly drawn. Gavin Sutherland and the ENB Philharmonic give a rousingly robust rendition of the score. It’s nice to see them more on display in this configuration of the Royal Festival Hall – even so, it’s not an ideal space for a ballet of this size, and Ezio Frigerio’s sets seem a bit cramped (and on the night I saw it, one dancer was injured in a collision with the stage furniture).
So yes, this is not the best of ballets – nothing, really, can save Act 3’s terrible stodginess – but Tamara Rojo continues to work her magic: the luminous dancing on display here makes this evening feel like a real treat.