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ENB’s Romeo and Juliet review at Royal Festival Hall – ‘drab and lifeless’

Erina Takahashi (centre) with Isaac Hernandez and Fernando Bufala in English National Ballet's Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Laurent Liotardo Erina Takahashi (centre) with Isaac Hernandez and Fernando Bufala in English National Ballet's Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Laurent Liotardo
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Over-choreographed and underwhelming, Rudolf Nureyev’s Romeo and Juliet has always suffered in comparison with versions by MacMillan, Cranko and even Ashton. Created for himself in the dusk of his career, it replaces aerial lightness with filigree footwork – not necessarily a bad thing as long as the dancers have a good grip on the grounded, low-level approach. Judging by this performance, they do not.

It would be easy enough to blame the atmosphere-free auditorium and shallow stage of the Royal Festival Hall, which is far better suited to concerts than ballet or other forms of theatrical endeavour. Neither does it help that the final scene is so dimly lit that the orchestra is more visible than the dancers – a fatal distraction. But the flaws are more fundamental here and a change of venue would not itself fix this.

With the elegant exception of Roseline and her friends – Nureyev’s ‘Three Graces’ – the ensembles are sloppy and conspicuously uncoordinated. The fights are far too ‘dancey’ to seem remotely dangerous and weapons are dropped all over the place; more House of Fumbled Daggers than the precise swordplay the piece demands.

Mercutio’s death scene is well done, however, with his mates applauding his dying histrionics until they realise they are for real. The ball scene, with the thunderous melodrama of Prokofiev’s score, is sludgy and slowed down by elements of mime, while the chequered-flag street dance recalls Soviet-era winsomeness at its least appealing, not helped by Nureyev’s clotted choreography.

Late highlights include the scene in which Juliet is haunted by the ghosts of Tybalt and Mercutio and Romeo’s duet with Benvolio, which includes a backwards leap performed thrice that conveys more about male friendship than any of the glutinous entwinings of the eponymous couple.

ENB could do, and has done, a lot better than this.

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Drab, lifeless production of Nureyev’s over-choreographed ballet