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  • Writer's pictureFiona Prior

Romeo and Juliet

Updated: Dec 27, 2022

Romeo and Juliet

Choreography: John Cranko

Guest Repititeur and Stager: Yseult Lendvai

Guest Repetiteur: Mark Kay

Music Sergei Prokofiev

The Australian Ballet


Can’t live with them and wouldn’t be here without them.

I had the pleasure of a conversation with a group of bright young adults, discussing the difficulties of parents adjusting when a child takes on a ‘significant other’ and the parent suddenly finds that they are no longer the primary partner of their child. One generous young person tuned, ‘well, after all the time, money and love invested, it would be difficult …’

In ‘Romeo and Juliet’, it is the intimacy of relationship between Juliet’s nurse and Juliet that we feel most keenly, and definitely the grand plans her parents have for her by marriage to the dashing Paris. But that is really it. The ongoing feud between the Montagues and Capulets is far more critical to our storyline. So much for the parenting.

Romeo and Juliet’ as we all know, is about that irrepressible passion of first love, brilliantly illustrated by both Shakespeare and this John Cranko choreographed version of ‘Romeo and Juliet’. The story of teenage hormones gone wild resonates as much in the 21st century as it did when ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was first penned in 1597. Of course, coming in behind this passion is the delicious camaraderie of the young Romeo and his high-spirited mates; the love of young ones who hang-out together; the loyalty, the trust, the adventures, the dumb and fun hi-jinks … Shakespeare just nailed it.

As did the Australian Ballet. The Australian Ballet’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is near perfect. The dancing is a whisper from immaculate, the sets are mesmerising and the drama jumps off the stage and into our hearts.

We watch Juliet (Benedicte Bemet), almost a child, playing with her beloved nurse and enraptured over an evening dress her mother brings her to wear to a grand ball (we feel, her first). We watch as this young girl develops into a slightly more adventurous fille, feeling her sensuality and enjoyment on the dance floor, then, as quickly, her retreat back into shy butterfly mode – those toe shoes almost fluttering on the dance floor as she self-consciously withdraws to safe corners of the room.

We watch as she and Romeo (Joseph Caley) become intoxicated with their passion, forgetting themselves in their balletic courtship and consummation; then, Juliette beseeching Romeo not to leave her bedroom, defying the sunrise as she seemingly senses tragedy hurtling towards them. And then, of course, the tragedy of their star-crossed love as their young lives end in messy mistakes and confusion. This evolution all takes place on stage within a short time-frame. Extraordinary physical story-telling by the now departed choreographer, John Cranko.

And those boys! The sword work, the swagger. I loved watching the charmer Mercutio (Marcus Morelli) in sword play; one second dangerously battling, metal on metal; the next, punctuating each bout with a kiss of a bedazzled village maiden. Never was a dancer more like a dashing Errol Flynn, all charisma and swagger and confidence ... And then, of course, his young life is taken by Tybalt (Jake Mangakahia), and in turn, Tybalt’s life is taken by the incensed Romeo. The tragedy brought on by the animosity of the two warring houses is not confined to our young lovers but to a generation of young ones brought up with hatred for another group. Shakespeare was so alert and illustrated so well, the tragic consequences of ongoing feuds and misunderstandings.

The sets of 'Romeo and Juliet' are beautiful (costume and set design by Jürgen Rose). My favourite was that of Juliet’s funeral march across a bridge on a misty evening; the blue grey sky burning with the golden lights of the funeral procession, like golden stars on a grieving canvas.

If you get a chance, do see this production by the Australian Ballet.

It is always wonderful to be swept away by a story you feel so familiar it can no longer hold surprises.

And of course, essential to the mesmerising package is Prokofiev’s dramatically romantic score. You could close your eyes and still sense the joy and pain that is being played out before you.

The Australian Ballet

Sydney Opera House

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