Having seen a new Romeo and Juliet less than a month ago (Scottish Ballet’s minimalist production), I found myself in the presence of yet another version that was new to me: Derek Deane’s production in the round originally created for English National Ballet in 1998. This version is, as expected, big and brash at times, and it requires mega-watt star power to project to a 5,000+ arena. Tamara Rojo, who was Deane’s original Juliet, knows this, and for that reason, she has packed the season with stars, including herself, Daria Klimentová (who retires at the end of the run), and Alina Cojocaru paired with, respectively, Carlos Acosta, Vadim Muntagirov, and Stuttgart Ballet’s Friedemann Vogel.
Rojo/Acosta and Klimentová/Muntagirov are, by now, celebrated partnerships which are renowned for their sizzling chemistry. But Cojocaru and Vogel were performing together only for the second time (previously, they had guested in Japan with La Scala Ballet in MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet) and this was the first time UK audiences were seeing them. And what an exciting discovery this was. Both dancers, at the peak of their powers, fully developed their characters’s arcs. Vogel’s Romeo, first besotted with Rosaline (the always lovely Begoña Cao), goes from boyish lad to passionate lover, while showing off his beautiful line, crisp technique and airy jumps. His Romeo was fittingly complemented by Cojocaru’s Juliet, who first introduces us to a shy teenager who comes into her own, later burning bright whenever Romeo is by her side. Both danced in a way that made you forget about steps or choreography, and focus instead on what was happening. In particular, their chemistry made the balcony scene passionate and mesmerising.
With constantly shifting ensembles, and a vast stage filled with a larger than usual corps (former Ballet Black stars Sarah Kundi and Jade Hale-Christofi were easy to spot!), it would be easy for audiences to miss key plot moments. However, Deane knows how to deploy the corps through clever patterns (there’s a reason why the townsfolk need to keep on dancing) to frame those key moments in the drama. ENB also showed the depth of its ranks with solid outings from soloists: Summerscales, Osbaldeston, Ovsyanick & Ramirez were sizzling and full of character as the Harlots. Forbat and Bufalá (Benvolio and Mercutio) had great rapport with Vogel’s Romeo and Max Westwell‘s portrayal of Tybalt as a thug was the perfect antithesis to Vogel’s romantic hero.
Even if at times this version might look “MacMillan light” (it has more or less the same structure), it is extremely effective in the context of an arena show. Cue the right cast and such intimate moments as the balcony scene, and the duet after the wedding night, take flight. At the end of the day, we keep returning to Romeo and Juliet to bear witness to the world’s greatest love story, here masterfully told by Cojocaru and Vogel.
Meanwhile, Alice Pennefather was at the general rehearsal and photographed the Tamara & Carlos cast for your enjoyment: