On a second viewing, Marianela Núñez‘s Juliet comes into even clearer focus. This Juliet reveals herself as an almost post-adolescent girl, far from childish in the Nurse scenes. As such, those scenes come through with slight mixed messages. The steps and stage manner seem to ask for childlike innocence (or in some readings, a teasing of the Nurse). Núñez plays for innocence but it reads oddly. There is throughout the ballet, little progression from budding girl to mature woman: Núñez’s Juliet is already ready to love and be loved, and she moulds the story around that trajectory of Fate.
As such, she shares gazes more coquettish and knowing, rather than besotted with her Romeo (Thiago Soares). Even so, the “love at first sight” moment with Romeo was beautiful, one felt the sparks, the faster beating hearts, the flush of Love. They locked gazes and the world slipped away.
And is there a greater sight than Núñez almost scampering down the famous balcony scene stairs, jetéing off them in pure joy, into the arms of her lover? or any greater tenderness in their parting kiss, their reaching for one another as the curtain falls? In that same scene, Juliet held her Romeo tight and he unleashed a flurry of affectionate pecks on her cheek. True unfeigned impulse, and as such, delightful.
And may I just point out: the way John B. Read decided to light the stage made Thiago Soares’ entrance into the Balcony scene magnificent. Deep rills of noble shadow caressed his cloak as he stood there waiting for Juliet. And as he ran it did rather seem that “With love’s light wings did [he] o’er-perch these walls;” A cape really does enhance a ballet.
That Mr Soares was slightly eclipsed in some scenes by the prowess of his two buddies (Valentino Zucchetti and Fernando Montaño as Mercutio and Benvolio respectively) didn’t matter too much to me. In some cases, dramatic intent can overcome any technical gripes. Soares may not be the tidiest jumper, the most elegant of Principals, but he makes up for it with committed acting. His slaying of Tybalt was particularly vicious: he definitely skewered him, and then drove the blade to the hilt in horrible vengeance.
As Mercutio Zucchetti may not be as scintillating as Marcelino Sambé in his technique and characterisation, but he understands the man – and the pathos of his death – equally well. If anything his death scene was improved upon the last time I saw him, but the couple next to me thought it was risible, and sniggered throughout. Unfair.
Once more, small moments stood out, gave life to the text: the way Núñez cupped Soares’ face in affection as he swirled her around and around in the balcony scene, the feeling of his kisses on her back in the Capulet palace thrilled her, how Núñez took the draught of sleep and then reached for her Romeo, the chink of light in the window – “herald of the dawn”. In the ballroom scene, it was evident that she danced for him alone. She adored him, and he her: half this ballet’s battle won. McMillan and successors other attentions to detail: a man leaping on a dancer’s back during the first mass brawl and being stuck with a sword, a townswoman swatting a guy with a broom, the dice players on the steps, Mercutio miming his own death in horrible irony. Verona became plausibly real.
At the close of the ballet, Núñez turned Juliet’s famously ugly death into an almost spiritual moment. One visibly saw her body yield up its spirit (which may just have been her body relaxing into the uncomfortable cambré over the edge of the plinth). The effect was well judged and perfectly demonstrated why Núñez is such an asset to the Royal Ballet.
Eric Underwood was still alarmingly inexpressive as Tybalt, with the same effect as last time I saw him; that of nearly deflating the drama of his part, and the ballet entire. Yasmine Naghdi was however once more luminous, and I can only imagine how her now widely feted debut as Juliet went. Gloriously, I think.