q Dance Review: Romeo & Juliet - More Is More, Or Of Energy, Colour And Dead Teenagers - Bruce Dennill

Dance Review: Romeo & Juliet – More Is More, Or Of Energy, Colour And Dead Teenagers

August 1, 2016



Romeo & Juliet / Joburg Ballet / Artistic Director Iain Macdonald / Joburg Theatre


Joburg Ballet’s newly adopted strategy of having more productions in a year, each running for shorter periods, is bearing fruit. With Giselle and a programme of short works (classic and contemporary) under their belts already in 2016, the company has now mounted a vibrant, full-scale take on Romeo & Juliet and still have Cinderella to come.

It must be exhausting. It must be stretching the dancers’ capacity to their limits. But their hard work is not only paying off on the technical side – there’s a general step-up in tightness and control – but also, less measurably, in the atmosphere on stage, where there seems to be a greater level of understanding and artistic empathy than has been the case in recent years.

Add these facets to the new set designs by Peter Cazalet and (for those who are culturally aware enough to know about such things) the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and this production felt like an event rather than just the requisite next show on the schedule.

The choreography for Romeo & Juliet requires a great deal of energy, with long party and fight scenes often involving the whole company, half of them flailing around with foils and the other half trying to stay out of the way. One formal ball scene was particularly striking, with the music, lights and en-masse movement all beginning the moment a screen is raised. It was a thrilling piece of theatre, and emblematic of some very smart production design in which the same set was often made to look completely different through the use of another lighting colour.

The cast for the performance reviewed here was led by prima ballerina Burnise Silvius as Juliet and Australian guest Aaron Smyth as Romeo (his debut in the role). This duo were supported by principal dancer Juan Carlos Osma and Ruan Galdino as Tybalt and Mercutio respectively. Osma is always a muscular, charismatic dancer, and the arrogant, macho Capulet enforcer is a wonderful role for him, and one he fully inhabited. Galdino held his own, giving his nimble Mercutio equal parts humour and muscle.

Smyth couldn’t match his co-stars for power or stage presence, but gave a polished, elegant performance. Silvius, however was sublime, perhaps reinvigorated by an enforced injury break earlier in the year. As the senior female dancer in the company, she’d be expected to deliver a technically accomplished performance, but not necessarily to convince as a character who was barely a teenager. She did that – effortlessly – but also completely embodied the naive youngster whose first real romantic liaison ended in tragedy.

Romeo & Juliet’s popularity as a ballet is, to some degree, down to its pedigree as a play and how familiar audiences are with the latter. But the success of this latest production has nothing to do with reliance on history – Joburg Ballet, bolstered by members of Vuyani Dance Theatre, whose contemporary dance roots are obscured by some exemplary ballet technique – have created an interpretation that easily stands alone as a project to bolster future seasons or, if the opportunity arises, to travel and impress audiences elsewhere.