Dance Review: Romeo And Juliet – High Score, Or Sword Enemies

July 9, 2023

 

By BRUCE DENNILL

 

Joburg Ballet: Romeo And Juliet / Choreography by Nicolas Beriosoff / The Mandela, Joburg Theatre, Braamfontein, Johannesburg

 

For a company going through a great deal of transition, an ageless story feels like it brings a measure of stability to proceedings. Other productions come and go relatively often in the cycle, but Romeo And Juliet was last performed on this stage seven years ago, and it’s good to have it back, not least because it is one of the most accessible stories behind any ballet, with first-timers and occasional attendees not needing much guidance as to what’s going on thanks to the ubiquity of Shakespeare’s tale in every sort of media.

Even for those well-versed in ballet, though, the power of Sergei Prokofiev’s score is astounding, particularly the magnificent Dance Of The Knights, which raises the drama level considerably – as it would in any setting (make it the background to a man opening a can of Coke and you’d believe that he was Ernest Shackleton). And by and large, the choreography does it justice, particularly in the ensemble numbers where dozens of dancers in richly colourful costumes make the stage buzz with movement and energy.

One doesn’t often highlight harlots, but Savannah Ireland, Darragh Hourrides and Tammy Higgins, in their harlequin patchwork costumes, bring brazen, forceful vigor to their roles and to the scenes in which they appear. This ballet also offers larger than usual character roles, with fairly low intensity but plenty of stage time, and it is lovely to see Anya Carstens back in the spotlight as Lady Capulet, getting the chance to both be stylish and regal and really let her hair down (literally, in this case) as she grieves for the fallen Tybalt (Craig Pedro).

As Juliet, Monike Cristina clearly evokes the youthful innocence and naivety of the character at the beginning of the piece and the broken confusion of the much-matured teen who loses her lover at the end. As Romeo, the tall, muscular Gabriel Fernandes feels like a slightly less comfortable fit, but he does make light work of some complex lifts.

The standout performer on the night is Ivan Domiciano, who gives his Mercutio both impish mischievousness and a brusque physicality, despite his relatively smaller frame. No wonder his inevitable demise sparks such extreme outcomes. He and all the other feisty young men are elegantly convincing in their sword fight sequences, with the company’s training sessions with a fencing expert yielding obvious fruit.

Here’s hoping the recent sparring going on behind the scenes at the company doesn’t impede progress as the dancers prepare for their next production, Don Quixote, in October.

 

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