Ballet NEWS | English National Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet

January 13, 2011

Ballet, Ballet News, Reviews

Romeo & Juliet  

English National Ballet 

London Coliseum 

January 13th 2011 matinee

two ballet dancers rehearsing

Max Westwell & Sarah Mcllroy rehearsing Romeo & Juliet Photograph : Bex Singleton

Regular readers of Ballet NEWS will know that I have been writing about English National Ballet First Artist Max Westwell, as he prepares for the principal role in Romeo & Juliet. I interviewed Max last year, and since then I have watched a couple of his rehearsals with principal Sarah Mcllroy

Max Westwell & Sarah Mcllroy rehearsing Romeo & Juliet  Photograph : Bex Singleton

Max Westwell rehearsing Romeo & Juliet Photograph : Bex Singleton

This afternoon at the London Coliseum, Westwell took on the title role at the matinee performance (his debut in the role was last year on tour in Southampton). 

Max Westwell & Sarah Mcllroy rehearsing Romeo & Juliet  Photograph : Bex Singleton

Sarah Mcllroy rehearsing Romeo & Juliet Photograph : Bex Singleton

Now, this afternoon’s performance was a School’s matinee, and as a rule, a theatre auditorium filled with pre-teens who are all clutching bags full of e-numbers would not be my event of choice. 

Max Westwell & Sarah Mcllroy rehearsing Romeo & Juliet  Photograph : Bex Singleton

Max Westwell & Sarah Mcllroy rehearsing Romeo & Juliet Photograph : Bex Singleton

However, I have to report that all of the children were perfectly behaved; they were quiet when they were expected to be and very vocal most of the rest of the time.  It’s quite a different experience from an evening show – and remember this is Romeo & Juliet – it’s not a barrel of laughs. 

Max Westwell & Sarah Mcllroy rehearsing Romeo & Juliet  Photograph : Bex Singleton

Max Westwell & Sarah Mcllroy rehearsing Romeo & Juliet Photograph : Bex Singleton

From his very first step, Westwell looked confident and at ease with the endless steps.  I have reviewed the first night and explained the story in detail, and so here I’d like to focus on the dancers. 

dancers rehearsing

James Streeter as one of the acrobats Photograph : Bex Singleton

Westwell heads the cast, and what I find so engaging about his dancing are his seamless transitions between attack and speed, languor, softness and grace.  He has the softest, soundless landings, his feet stroking the floor through Nureyev’s tiny steps, powering into the air at a moments notice.  What I also notice about Westwell is the way he uses his hands.  It’s almost as though they are telling a story of their own, but he has a way of maximising every beat of the music through the movement of his hands and arms.  A true dancer’s muscles feel every note and itch to move in response, and this is what I see in Westwell. 

Max Westwell & Sarah Mcllroy rehearsing Romeo & Juliet  Photograph : Bex Singleton

Max Westwell & Sarah Mcllroy rehearsing Romeo & Juliet Photograph : Bex Singleton

I should also mention Kei Akahoshi, feisty in the market square scenes; not afraid to push the men out of her way and right in the thick of the action all the way through.  There’s a lot going on in these scenes – every market stall is doing a brisk trade, even the one selling what looked like jackets shrunk in the wash.  So it is quite hard to stand out from the braying packs and Akahoshi, with her beaming smile and busy eyes, did just that.  She also looked to be having the most fun ! 

ballet dancers rehearsing

dancers rehearsing the Flag Dance Photograph : Bex Singleton

The scene where Juliet is playing with her friends is beautifully lit with wands of ashy light and emphasised with the flowing costumes in warm shades dipped in earthy hues.   Senri Kou and Venus Villa were both stars, making the most of what stage time they had. 

Max Westwell & Sarah Mcllroy rehearsing Romeo & Juliet  Photograph : Bex Singleton

Max Westwell & Sarah Mcllroy rehearsing Romeo & Juliet Photograph : Bex Singleton

Sarah Mcllroy has beautiful, strong feet, and in her dance with Tybalt her rock-solid technique and artistry come to the fore.  She is such a pretty Juliet; the hair and make-up really suit her in this production and you can’t help but be on her side. 

Max Westwell & Sarah Mcllroy rehearsing Romeo & Juliet  Photograph : Bex Singleton

Sarah Mcllroy rehearsed by Antony Dowson in Romeo & Juliet Photograph : Bex Singleton

Mcllroy dances a carefree solo, expertly concealing the control required for such abandon. 

Max Westwell & Sarah Mcllroy rehearsing Romeo & Juliet  Photograph : Bex Singleton

Max Westwell & Sarah Mcllroy rehearsing Romeo & Juliet Photograph : Bex Singleton

Yat-Sen Chang is a funny, engaging Mercutio until his untimely demise. 

Max Westwell & Sarah Mcllroy rehearsing Romeo & Juliet  Photograph : Bex Singleton

Max Westwell rehearsing Romeo & Juliet Photograph : Bex Singleton

When it comes to that crucial first meeting between the two protagonists, it has to be believable – you have to feel that these two have literally fallen into a pre-set moment in time which will change the course of their lives forever.  Westwell and Mcllroy met that challenge touchingly. 

Max Westwell & Sarah Mcllroy rehearsing Romeo & Juliet  Photograph : Bex Singleton

Max Westwell & Sarah Mcllroy rehearsing Romeo & Juliet Photograph : Bex Singleton

Their pas de deux are long in Nureyev’s production and they look utterly sapping.  And yet, Westwell and Mcllroy never flagged.  It’s tough because one minute Romeo is dancing a sequence of solo steps and jumps; the next Juliet is whizzing past him, looking to be caught at just the right moment. There’s no time to breathe, let alone rest.

Max Westwell & Sarah Mcllroy rehearsing Romeo & Juliet  Photograph : Bex Singleton

Max Westwell & Sarah Mcllroy rehearsing Romeo & Juliet Photograph : Bex Singleton

Mcllroy acts the scenes where her parents are determined to marry her off to Paris with real conviction.  She’s not just rebelling against them; she takes time to consider her actions and then follows them through with spell-binding determination.  Even in defeat, you can see her mind working because this can’t, surely, be her fate ?

Particularly touching are her battles with the dagger v poison.  Mcllroy makes it clear that her love of Romeo is too strong and she wants a future with him above all else. You feel her despair, her slumped shoulders, her pleading with her Nurse and Mother until it’s clear they are not listening and she strikes out.

She’s a fiery whirling dervish when it comes to resisting the wedding dress & it’s connotations, and a distrought, inconsolable widow, made all the more believable for her earlier passion to live and love Romeo.

Mcllroy and Westwell are a force to be reckoned with.  These two are the real deal.

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8 Responses to “Ballet NEWS | English National Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet”

  1. Hannah Says:

    Another wonderful article- loved your comments about Sarah & Max and totally agree! Beautiful photos too! Glad you enjoyed the performance despite the schoolchildren (and pleased they were quiet in the appropriate parts!)

  2. Lucinde Lane Says:

    What a lovely article published with beautiful rehearsal images. My family knew Sarah’s years ago and we are so thrilled to hear she is doing so well. Will make effort to travel down with kids to London to get a performance.

  3. May Says:

    Wonderful to hear how ENB can field so many good casts in this ballet- it’s not an easy production to peform, with lots of details and tricky choreography – especially Romeo’s role (Nureyev often choreographed for himself – ie he took the leading male role and put in his signature steps that came very easy to him…not always to others!). This review was refreshing and full of depth, as always. I just have one point to make to ENB and the schools – Romeo and Juliet, especially in Nureyev’s version (but also the Royal Ballet version), is not really suitable viewing for preteens in a schools matinee. (Cinderella would be ok). If I were to rate it like a movie, say compared with Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, R & J would be 15, Swan Lake PG and Nutcracker U or G. There are explicit depictions of suicide and sexual content. The duelling isn’t exactly Peter Pan. Sorry to be a killjoy, but just because there are pointe shoes it doesn’t mean that it’s all girly and sweet! But kudos to the school children for showing the artists such respect.

  4. Cloudia Says:

    Lovely pairing

    Aloha from Waikiki

    Comfort Spiral

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  5. Polly Says:

    A lovely article – what was so uplifting were the photographs. I do not think that I have ever seen so much joy or energy in dancer’s eyes or faces before. Wonderful!.

  6. Chris Says:

    Thanks for a lovely review. I saw both the Tuesday and Thursday matinees. I think the Tuesday dancer (I won’t name him as I don’t want to be rude and it was his debut in the role) was at least as good technically but I was a little disappointed in hime. His performance too often looked as if he was dancing to show off what a good dancer he was, whereas Westwell seemed to be dancing purely because he was so deeply in love with Juliet (and her performance reciprocated). Wonderful.

    By the way, I had not been warned that this was a schools matinee – I saw nothing on the ENO or ENB websites. However, it might have put me off going, so perhaps it was better that way!

  7. Ballet News Says:

    thank you everyone for your lovely comments.

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