United Kingdom Prokofiev, Romeo and Juliet: The Royal Ballet, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House / Koen Kessels (conductor), Live screening from The Royal Opera House, London, 22.9.2015 (J.O’D)
Juliet: Sarah Lamb
Romeo: Steven McRae
Mercutio: Alexander Campbell
Tybalt: Gary Avis
Benvolio: Tristan Dyer
Paris: Ryoichi Hirano
Lord Capulet: Christopher Saunders
Lady Capulet: Elizabeth McGorian
Escalus (Prince of Verona): Bennet Gartside
Rosaline: Lara Turk
Nurse: Genesia Rosato
Friar Laurence: Alastair Marriott
Lord Montague: Alastair Marriott
Lady Montague: Sian Murphy
Juliet’s Friends: Elizabeth Harrod, Meaghan Grace Hinkis, Fumi Kaneko, Emma Maguire, Yasmine Naghdi, Romany Pajdak
Three Harlots: Itziar Mendizabal, Olivia Cowley, Helen Crawford
Mandolin Dance: James Hay, Luca Acri, Kevin Emerton, Paul Kay, Fernando Montaño, Marcelino Sambé
Ballroom Guests and Townspeople: Artists of the Royal Ballet
Choreography: Kenneth MacMillan
Music: Sergey Prokofiev
Designer: Nicholas Georgiadis
Lighting Designer: John B. Read
To mark both the launch of its Live Cinema Season 2015/16 and the fiftieth anniversary of Kenneth MacMillan’s production of Romeo and Juliet, The Royal Opera House arranged a live screening of a performance of the ballet for an invited audience at BAFTA in Piccadilly. The aim of the event was to promote the already increasingly popular screenings as a medium for watching opera and ballet, and of making these accessible to a wider audience.
The screening was introduced, after canapés and champagne, by the Director of The Royal Ballet, Kevin O’Hare. The 2015/16 season, he said, would include twelve operas and ballets and, for the first time, screenings of matinée performances. The Royal Ballet will also be presenting new work: Carmen (by Principal Guest Artist, Carlos Acosta), and Viscera and the full-length Frankenstein (by Artist in Residence, Liam Scarlett).
Introduced from the Royal Opera House by former Royal Ballet Principal, Darcey Bussell, and by BBC news and sports presenter, Ore Oduba, this performance of Romeo and Juliet was being transmitted to several hundred cinemas in the UK and to sixteen countries around the world. ‘Hello, Trafalgar Square!’ said Darcey Bussell as that part of London came into view. People watching on a screen set up there leapt and waved in response, like the people at Wimbledon when the camera cuts to Henman Hill.
Kevin O’Hare described MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet as having, in 1965, a ‘new sense of drama and realism’. During one of the pre-performance interviews, the choreographer’s daughter, Charlotte, said: ‘It doesn’t rely on just the steps.’ Watching from a cinema, you do not breathe the same air as the dancers. You do not feel the vibration, in the air, of what they are doing. It is a visual experience; one in which there is a tendency for everything to become foreground. But, for the most part, Romeo and Juliet can bear the scrutiny of the camera. There is the music by Prokofiev. There are the rich and detailed costumes by Nicholas Georgiadis. There are the strong, expressive faces of Elizabeth McGorian (as Lady Capulet), and Itziar Mendizabal (as one of the Three Harlots).
Romeo and Juliet are Steven McRae and Sarah Lamb. The chemistry between these two dancers is something tried and tested. Across the pas de deux in this ballet they show the two characters’ growing knowledge of each other’s bodies. Certain movements are reprised, in the later pas de deux, to heartbreaking effect. In her encounters with Ryoichi Hirano’s Paris, the man Juliet’s parents want her to marry, Sarah Lamb makes the backward bourrée representative of a retreat into the self. Hirano, for his part, gives Paris a studied gentleness we come to realize is superficial. If it is not possible, in a cinema, to feel the force of McRae’s pirouettes and spins, the ‘clean’ movements of his legs can be appreciated as he dances alongside Alexander Campbell and Tristan Dyer (Mercutio and Benvolio).
In her book, The Royal Ballet: 75 Years, dance critic Zoë Anderson writes: ‘…MacMillan did his best work for the central characters – the lovers, Romeo’s friends. His crowd scenes were padded out to fill the long stretches of Prokofiev’s score.’ This shows, especially when watching the ballet on a screen. Every face of the dramatically gesturing corps de ballet figures as prominently as those of the principals. Out of the ‘padding’, though, there emerges at least one startling moment. It is the solo by a light, fleet dancer with a remarkably pliant upper body. Unrecognizable at first behind the white face paint of a mandolin player in the Mandolin Dance, the dancer is James Hay.
For trailers and full cast details of the Royal Opera House’s Live Cinema Season 2015/16 go to: http://www.roh.org.uk/cinemas