To completely redesign a canonical ballet is a risky move, but Nureyev’s choreography manages to bring Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet back in sync with its Shakespearean roots.
The ballet is opened by four male dancers who echo the ominous chorus of classical theatre, hinting that this is a ballet which will not shy away from the darker aspects of the story. However, their odd crouching stances left them looking more like the flying monkeys of Oz than the harbingers of death (although one could argue that these are one and the same).The costume choice also left little to the imagination. The company were clad in traditional sixteenth-century clothing, yet these four chorus men wore little more than their dance belts. This was a somewhat confusing opening scene, yet it effectively introduced the audience to the homoerotic world of Rudolf Nureyev.
“Nureyev’s work manages to inject licentious joy back into this tale of woe.”
Nureyev’s choreography welcomes the latent homoeroticism of Shakespeare’s original work. From the heart-wrenching Act Three pas de deux between Romeo and Benvolio to the suggestively playful baiting of Tybalt and Mercutio, the ballet is full of exuberant male interactions. Yonah Acosta was joyous to watch in his role as Mercutio, playing the dutiful best friend by mocking Romeo at every opportunity. It is very rare for a ballet to produce audible laughter from the audience, but Acosta achieved this through his cheeky and at times bawdy performance. This bawdiness was not limited to the men, as Amber Hunt’s portrayal of the Nurse proves. More often than not, she could be seen otherwise engaged with various male dancers, and flirting with the Montague boys. Hunt’s awareness of the scene around her brought balance to the production, adding to the salacious tone without detracting from the main events.
Lauretta Summerscales’ depiction of Juliet added a youthful flightiness crucial to justifying the desperate and ultimately fatal decisions she makes later in the ballet. Joshua Hoffault, debuting in this role, exuded boyish charm as the quietly confident leader of the Montague group of friends. Together the pair encapsulated the excited nervousness of a first love, yet showed a depth of range as each bore the trauma of the other’s death.
Prokofiev’s powerful score has become iconic both within and without the world of ballet, with Opus 64 (Montagues and Capulets) being particularly recognisable. With such powerful music, the dancing could easily be overshadowed, yet Nureyev’s choreography holds its own against this demanding backdrop. When working with a classic it can be easy to fall into stereotypes, yet Nureyev’s work manages to inject licentious joy back into this tale of woe.
Image: Bill Cooper