Romeo & Juliet
English National Ballet
January 13th 2011 matinee
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 !
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.
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.
Mcllroy dances a carefree solo, expertly concealing the control required for such abandon.
Yat-Sen Chang is a funny, engaging Mercutio until his untimely demise.
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.
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.
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.