The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s adventurous take on Romeo and Juliet

The Ryman Healthcare Season of Romeo and Juliet
Royal New Zealand Ballet

St James Theatre, Wellington
Until August 20

Then Christchurch August 25 & 26, Auckland August 30-September 3, Rotorua September 8 & 9, Dunedin September 13 & 14, Invercargill September 17, Palmerston North September 21, Napier September 24

Of all the great full-length ballets Romeo and Juliet is the closest to real life. There are no fairies, no changelings, no wicked witches or wizards. It is a tale of human dimensions in which individuals make decisions based on their emotions. It is a story about romantic love but also about the destructive consequences of that love.

The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s latest production of the work is an adventurous take on the Shakespearean tale and is the last ballet to be choreographed by Francesco Ventriglia the former Artistic Director of the company and is a fitting coda to his work with the company – a ballet filled with colour, exuberance and spectacle.

The sets and costumes designed by the Academy Award-winning designer James Acheson are a masterly combination of realism and inventiveness.  Elements of the architecture of Verona and the facade of San Zeno are combined with images derived from Renaissance art – a crucifix by Giotto and a Madonna and child by Cimabue to create old Verona.

The costumes are ravishing – from the elaborate costumes worn at the ball that could have come straight from an image of a Medici court to the gaudy flounced dresses of the local prostitutes and the colour-coordinated wear of the hot Capulets and the cool Montagues.

The production is one of the most comprehensively designed the company has had and is an indication of the new heights of creativity that have been achieved in Ventriglia’s time at the Royal New Zealand Ballet

Romeo and Juliet is still a relevant story today, exploring issues of the personal, the familial and the social and how they conflict with the demands of society.

Romeo and his Montague friends and the rival Capulets may be the testosterone-fuelled youth of Verona but they could be of any time or any place. They follow their own rules but there are also the demands of family.

Joseph Skelton (Romeo) and Madeleine Graham (Juliet) have to create characters with the emotional and physical attributes of young people falling in love. They both give engaging and expressive performances full of energy and emotion.

Graham captured the subtle changes of the transformation from child to young woman with a simplicity tinged with apprehension while Skelton's dancing was assured at all times, mixing his macho qualities with an emerging gentleness.

In much of their dancing they achieved a limpid sensuality and in the final sequence, when Romeo danced with the dead Juliet, the dancers achieved an almost ethereal quality.

There were some outstanding performances by other cast members, with Abigail Boyle investing Lady Capulet with a fury of volcanic proportions while Paul Mathews as Tybalt was a superbly, arrogant bully.

The other young members of the House of Montague, Mercutio (Massimo Margaria), and Benvolio (Filippo Valmorbida) along with Kohei Iwamoto as Juliet’s suitor also gave impressive performances.

Sir Jon Trimmer gave another of his accomplished performances as Friar Lawrence and Laura Saxon Jones as Juliet’s nurse was able to combine a touch of comedy with her serious colluding.

The great star of the ballet is Prokofiev and his music, which underpins the drama and the emotion of the ballet. Orchestra Wellington under Hamish McKeich ensured the music really was an integral part of the work.

John Daly-Peoples has a relative on the board of the Royal New Zealand Ballet