The latest run of Romeo and Juliet continues, each cast bringing a different interpretation and/or accentuating different aspects of physicality. Kenneth MacMillan‘s expressive choreography suits so many different types of dancers: from the lyrical to the technician; from young promising soloists who can emphasize naïveté to form a realistic portrayal of a young couple in love, to such experienced dancers as Edward Watson and Leanne Benjamin who can rely on their artistic maturity to flesh out the choreography and reveal the musicality of Prokofiev’s score.
Having not seen them in this ballet before, I was curious as to how they would approach their roles; how they would fit together. Watson and Benjamin have a natural affinity to MacMillan. It is also a given that they make optimum use of qualities like delectable extensions & fluidity in Watson’s case; a lithe body in Benjamin’s.
Watson starts out as a boy in love, first trying to attract Rosaline’s attention, joking with his friends and then moving onto Juliet once he places his eyes on her. There is little effusiveness in their first meeting suggesting that perhaps this Romeo might initially see Juliet as another Rosaline. Benjamin’s reading of Juliet is also gradual; from playing with her nurse and shying away from Paris (played by picture perfect Johannes Stepanek) she seems at first more amused than struck by Romeo’s attentions.
Though well-formed I felt this gradual build up took away some of the emotional punch from the balcony scene as up until that point there was little evidence of a larger-than-life romance. But once the tragedy set in, it all came alive for the couple. Romeo is clearly torn between duty to his wife’s family and loyalty to his friends and own family. Watson’s acting after Mercutio’s death is deeply affecting and in the bedroom pas de deux, his way of using the music, stretching the notes to match the extension of his his body suggested desperation and helplessness. Benjamin vividly portrays Juliet’s pain and sorrow. She becomes more and more impulsive, decidedly embracing her tragic fate when she wakes up in the Capulet tomb.
Giving MacMillan’s steps an elegant air with his long limbs – sometimes one wishes he would stay in arabesque forever – Watson makes the most of the pirouettes à la seconde and attitude turns, both more ideally suited for him than the quick-footed sequences with the harlots. Benjamin was her perfect technical self, once more showing how a ballerina in her forties can be capable of delivering the sort of goods young twenty-year olds can only dream of.
Complementing the cast, Steven McRae was a blazing, scene-stealing Mercutio and Ernst Meisner a very assured Benvolio. The masks pas de trois was one of the most technically perfect I’ve ever seen and their chemistry with Romeo really gave us a sense of three best friends. Bennet Gartside had another great evening as the villainous Tybalt, Brian Maloney (a Romeo in waiting perhaps?) was a solid lead Mandolin. With the whole company in great shape and each character weaving their own individual stories in the background, there could be no better tribute to this version of the ballet. Forty five years on it keeps challenging its performers and moving audiences.