Chic, cool, sometimes clinical in staging, Maillot’s “Romeo and Juliette” is a whirling
spectacle of frentic dance, but one which didn’t fully move me. (Such is the bulk of
action written for her that it really should be called just “Juliette”.) Perhaps this was down to the minimalist set (Ernest Pignon-Ernest, and what a cool name) which removes all references to any medieval Verona, opting instead for a white palate, with a thing that looks like a slide bisecting the backwall, and two moveable panels. Credits are projected onto one panel at the start, which felt a bit strange. A touch of class came from the costumes (lamé, metallics, women in dresses slashed to the thigh) courtesy of Jérôme Kaplan.
Thus, the set as a background felt a bit clnical, and perhaps some of my antipathy came from the text itself. I could have done with a little more old-fashioned acting – a rest from the aforementioned frenetic work, but the dancing was “through composed” and action quite constant. Not much mime here: choreography was to spell it all.
Contemporary and neoclassical vocabulary inform this piece. There isn’t much pointework, and only a suggestion of it in the balcony scene. A lot of the movement for Juliet, danced by Noéani Pantastico is taken barefoot. Juliet’s naivety didn’t quite come though in the choreography for me. At the start she bared her breasts at her nurse. In that scene I couldn’t help but think of Fonteyn, every step a girl despite her real age.
What did come through was the sense of young love, adolescent yearning and discoveries. The discovery of sensuality was well done in particular, though slightly gratuitous, this was not so much a romance as the discovery of bodies, other carnal existences, rather than possible futures and shared bliss.
The famous balcony scene itself could be seen as a highpoint of the drama whether play, opera or ballet. There Maillot’s text forgoes any classical restraint, or really, much restraint at all and throws caution to the wind. The result is compelling but again, too frenetic for my tastes. You can watch a video of it here.
Romeo (Lucien Postlewaite) worships Juliet’s pointed foot, a slightly weird moment, and one I hoped would transition into a dance en pointe. Not so. I was denied. In that same scene, Juliet, kissed, achieves almost sexual release, shivering bodily, body arcing. A memorable moment.
It’s not all lovey-dovey romance: Maillot’s sensitivity to Shakespeare’s intent comes through keenly in places. I very much doubt Ashton or Grigorovich would have their Mercutio (George Oliveira) grab the pudenda of Nurse,squeeze, and then sniff his fingers lustily. So too he doesn’t merely thumb his nose, he works through a lot of offensive gestures, ultimately kissing Tybalt on the lips. Oliveira’s Mercutio himself was splendid: puckish and witty and well danced, the trickster and jape-player emerged strongly, no lute required. As his killer, Alvaro Prieto’s Tybalt was all menace, his backwards jetes and his stature as a whole were impressive, the choreography for him brash and full of bravado.
I recall a lady’s hyper extensions impressed when she was lifted in the famous Montague and Capulet ball but it, and the “first meeting” scene didn’t play as strongly as for example, the Bolshoi’s grand staging. It lacked grandeur or tension.
I wrote a note saying “who the hell the guy in black is, I have no idea”. I first thought
him the chorus, but he was in fact the Friar (Alexis Oliveira) in a greatly expanded through-featured role. At the start he is lifted by two acolytes in image of crucifixion. At the end he creeps onto the stage (in the crypt sequence, were there actually a crypt) to help Juliet die. It’s all a bit odd.
Nurse (Gaëlle Riou) was no fat or elderly wet nurse, she was more like a chambermaid, a bit cartoonish, complete with suffering the aforementioned ill-treatment and advantage taking. Still, she, and everyone did well with the steps they were given.
There was excellent slo-mo fight sequence, and a few cool freeze frames and a very violent
slaying of Tybalt. Tybalt’s mother (April Ball) was herself explosively written, yet her anguish was a bit de trop. In fact a lot of Maillot’s writing veered into over-the-top and histrionic. Juliet lets out a silent scream of anguish, rang a bit false, Tybalt’s mother flails around. The nurse mugs for the audience.
Having said that, the puppet show was excellent, playing out the fight over Juliet/Veronan rivalry to come. I said “wow” to a few things, which is fine by me. The end kiss, almost vampiric, which features on showbills, was great, as was its near exact copy from act I, in the balcony scene.
The ending, where Juliet dies by strangulation from ribbons (metaphorical blood), was quite odd. Nevertheless, at curtain down/black out, the audience gave enthusiastic applause and warm response with cheers and whistles, Les ballet de Monte Carlo’s and Maillot, who came onstage for some praise, found their effort well rewarded.