ROMEO AND JULIET
FESTIVAL THEATRE, EDINBURGH
When it comes to theatrical design, we are familiar with both the abundant opulence of certain period art movements, such as rococo, and the pared-back elegance of the various manifestations of 20th-century minimalism. However, in Northern Ballet’s new staging of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s acclaimed Romeo and Juliet for Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, we might just be witnessing a new movement, one which we might call abundant minimalism.
From the moment the curtain rises on the superb Giuliano Contadini’s Romeo, lying on the ground, statuesque, as company credits are projected, movie-style onto a curved surface of an unambiguously abstract set, one knows this will not be an R&J of Renaissance splendour. Indeed, intriguingly, the French company has fashioned a design concept which would have been familiar to the ballet’s composer, Sergei Prokofiev, who lived through the revolutionary explosion of Russian Constructivism.
Like Constructivism, the beautifully sparse design is always functional. For example, the adjustable, angled ramp at the heart of the set does more than merely create a series of enigmatic shapes. It serves well, for instance, as a dramatic platform for the enraged Romeo’s vengeful killing of Tybalt (a splendidly arrogant Javier Torres).
The beauty of Maillot’s choreography is that it injects into this creative minimalism a dance of delightful plethora. Here the Dance of the Knights, for example, is not a proudly stepped procession of male power, but a carefully constructed, excitingly energetic collision of Capulet and Montague, men and women.
Likewise, the dance of the lovers’ balcony scene. Martha Leebolt (a genuinely moving Juliet) and Contadini’s splendidly passionate pas de deux is all the more effective for being danced on a set which eschews naturalistic replication for Modernist simplicity.
Curiously, given his undeniable sense of style, Maillot has a penchant for the comedy of people, inadvertently or deliberately, touching women’s breasts. On the first occasion, perhaps even the second, it is humorous. One is surprised, however, to see it become almost a motif, as if we are about to descend into Carry On Ballet.
This peculiar quirk notwithstanding, this is a gorgeously original Romeo and Juliet, presented with a panache of which Northern Ballet should be proud.
At Festival Theatre, Edinburgh until tomorrow (Saturday, February 28). Tickets: 0131 529 6000, edtheatres.com. Transfers to Grand Theatre, Leeds, March 4-12. Tickets: 0844 848 2700, leedsgrandtheatre.com.
A slightly edited version of this review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on February 27, 2015
© Mark Brown