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English National Ballet's R+J 16/6

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I went to see ENB's Romeo and Juliet last night. Agnes Oaks and Thomas Edur, who've been married for 10 years, danced the star-crossed lovers. I thought they were a fine example of the advantages of a long-time partnership. Oaks had complete trust in Edur, throwing herself into the pdd, and they had such wonderful chemistry. Edur is a fantastic Romeo, displaying a range of emotions - boyish and heady in love, then rage, despair, and indecision at Mercutio's death. Technically, I coouldn't find a fault with either of them. I did find Oaks' Juliet to be a bit one-note though. I witnessed more depth and growth in Romeo than in Juliet! But I missed some of her Act I characterisation, in part due to the unique staging.

It's set in the Royal Albert Halls, a huge round stage, with the seats covering about 300 degrees, starting at stage level and climbing steeply. The production thumbs its nose at the traditional, "2-dimensional" stages, and it’s choreographed (by Derek Deane) to be viewed at any angle, constantly turning so everyone can get a good look.

I was right in the centre front row, and I was delighted at how close some of the dancers were, less than 3 feet away. They used the aisles to run on and off stage, so I got quite a rush when the corps flew in on mass. In addition most of the principals would pause right in front of my seat while looking in on the centre action, so I got several long good looks.

The cast is something like 120, which made for some very crowded but immensely enjoyable scenes, and illustrated how important the corps are. Sitting where I was, it was hard to keep your attention on any one area - Romeo would be off on one side, Mercutio on another, and there'd be a pair dancing up a frenzy right in front of you. But it was fun, and it draws your eye to dancing that you probably wouldn't pay much attention to otherwise.

The ballet really came alive when the corps were all on stage - the joyous and earthy dancing in the marketscene, the formality of the ballroom, and the fighting in Act I and II took my breath away.

But even when it was just R+J, it was still a wonder to watch. In the middle of that massive stage I thought Oaks and Edur had no problem projecting to the 4000+ audience.

To minimise blocking, there's minimal scenery - 4 carts for the market, the bed/tomb and a moving balcony that rotates so that Juliet can follow Romeo as he circles the balcony - it wasn't as terrible as I'd imagined from the some of the reviews.

There were a few snags - I didn't mind much when dancers got in the way of my field of vision because you could usually count on them to move in a sec. But I missed a few key moments, like when R+J first meet. I couldn't see them in the wedding because the darn friar was in the way!

Nevertheless I thought the production worked really well. It's a very unique experience, and though you can probably focus more on the couple from seats higher up, I got such a kick out of seeing Edur do huge jetes, pirouettes, and lifting Oaks right in front of me, I prefer the first row to any other. The lighting was amazing - my jaw just dropped when I first entered, the way it was all lit up in blue. The ballroom scene for example was lit up in deep red, giving the dancers (must have been 60 of them paired up, in line on stage) an aura of menace that suited the Dance of the Knights.

Yat Sen Chang ruled supreme as Mercutio - he's always going to be a crowd favourite with all the energy he puts into his dancing. I thought his death scene was a bit overwrought though - too hammy. And Shi-Ning Liu makes the meanest, most villainous Tybalt I've ever seen.

The guy sitting next to me said it was more of a spectacle than a ballet and I only half agree. I'd hate to characterise it as such as it may put some people off. I think the whole atmosphere is so unique - the intense lighting, the different angles you can watch it (I don't think there's a bad seat in the house), the minimal use of scenery, and the huge cast - I've never seen so many dancers on stage at once. I had such a fantastic time - I'm still glowing! - and I hope to see it again. It offers such a unique perspective on ballet, but the thanks to the dancers, the romance remains at centre and I'd recommend it to anyone.

There are some great reviews from last year's production on ballet.co.uk that give a lot more insight than I can. http://www.ballet.co.uk/cgi/reviews_database_search/db_ search.cgi?company_names=enb&production=juliet&place_name=Albert://http://www.ballet.co.uk/cgi/reviews...ace_name=Albert://http://www.ballet.co.uk/cgi/reviews...ace_name=Albert://http://www.ballet.co.uk/cgi/reviews...ace_name=Albert://http://www.ballet.co.uk/cgi/reviews...ace_name=Albert://http://www.ballet.co.uk/cgi/reviews...ace_name=Albert

[ 06-17-2001: Message edited by: sylvia ]

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I didn't mention how the orchestra sounded from row 1 - not great. I knew it probably sounded magnificent higher up.

What really perturbed me was how short all the dancers appeared. I don't think any of them could have been any taller than 5'7 or 5'8. Oh well, that's another illusion dashed. :(

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Thanks for the review--it *is* very different than we are used to, but I enjoy those ENB circus productions....

Sit in the seventh or eighth row, next time--you'll not have your sightline blocked and still be quite close....

I like to sit near aisles so I can feel the wind of the exits and entrances, also!

Yes, the sad realization that the gods of the dance are not larger than life....being elevated on a stage always gives that extra element of grandeur (not to mention height) to dancers.... ;)

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I thought I'd go down and check out Fernanda Oliveira's debut in R+J. Turns out it was a school matinee which put a whole different spin on things. I had a great seat in the first tier box in the centre, but I'm unconvinced that it was really worth it.

Oliveira and Nathan Coppen certainly look the part, with their youth and beauty. Oliveira, from Brazil, has been in ENB for less than a year. Though still in the corps she's already danced Odette and the Sugar Plum Fairy, and resembles a young Tamara Rojo. I thought she did a fine job and the performance showed she could handle the technical challenges of a leading role. There were a few awkward moments where I felt her acting a bit overwrought (Juliet's discovery of Romeo's death) and other areas where I felt nothing at all (the family scenes). But there were moments - when she's on her own after being told to marry Paris, and also later in the potion scene - she had so much tension in her body - I thought she would break herself in half. She would be completely still but I could still see the muscles in her arms moving. Or when she moves towards the bed to retieve the potion, she paused looking back longingly at the window. I suspect she'll continue to grow and add her own flourishes to the role.

I guess the same can be said for Coppen, a soloist with ENB. His Romeo was sweet and boyish, though he seemed a bit lifeless at Mercutio's death. Still he seemed very confident and was a lot of fun to watch. I didn't find him very passionate but he really brought life into his pdd with Oliveira.

It was very surreal to see Shi-Ning Liu as Mercutio after his fantastic Tybalt a few days ago. He made a very lively and exciting Mercutio, upstaging Romeo in the market scenes and outside the Capulet House, in my mind. I thought he lacked the humour that Yat Sen Chang brought to the role, and much prefer him as Tybalt. Daniel Jones just didn't have that carzed streak of insanity that Liu had. I still have doubts about the way Mercutio's death is played. It doesn't look realistic at all, and the audience knew it. The kids in front of me were wondering why he kept going on, and on, and on.

I had a much better view than before, so I could enjoy the patterns in the corps. I think this production is much better at showing off it's corps than it's stars. I kept marvelling at how seamless Dean's choreography is - the market scenes are so much fun to watch. The ballroom scene wasn't any less intense, and it's wonderful watching the Capulet guests marching in from 6 different entrances. And it's a nice touch how the lighting alters with changes in mood. The three pdd - the ballroom, the balcony and the bedroom are really lovely and Oliveira and Coppen were beautiful to watch, though one of the lifts seemed a bit rough.

I'll be looking forward to hearing other reviews because it was very hard to judge this one objectively with all the sceaming kids. Ok, it wasn't all that bad, but I wouldn't really recommend going to a R+J school matinee if you're hoping to be moved. I guess the "circus" atmosphere of the round must have something to do with it. These kids - they would clap and cheer at every pause or break in the music. I think some of the dancers had a hard time hearing the music over the clapping and were straining to look at the conductor. It was fun to hear so much enthusiasm - I don't recall ever hearing this level of noise or excitement at a regular performance. But Mercutio's stabbing - cheers, Tybalt's stabbing - more cheers. Note, they hadn't even died yet. I don't think they quite got the tragedy of the whole story. :( Which was fine, though I was a bit perturbed when Juliet stabbing herself got the loudest cheers of all.

Plus they kept woo-hooing and whistling throughout the pdd, which are more obviously erotic than MacMillan's version and has Romeo stretching Juliet on the ground. Of course they loved that. And especially during the kissing - there's a lot of kissing. It was actually quite funny and I had a giggle myself, though I was absolutely dreading the bedroom scene - it starts with Romeo's return to Juliet and they roll around in bed for a bit. I thank God that Derek Dean didn't carry through with his plan to have R+J undress and dance around in their underwear.

Of course it did get annoying at the end. I always get teary when Romeo rushes in into the tomb, his cape flying behind him. There's a moment when Romeo is dragging around Juliet's body, where he lies on his back supporting her with his arms, and gives her a little shake. It looked fake - I don't remember Edur doing that - and brought about loud laughter from the audience, breaking the mood. I won't be surprised if Coppen excludes that next time round. Similarly when Coppen lies down with Oliveira on top, pulling her arms around him, trying to "love her back to life" - I love that so I was plenty mad when the whistling started. By the time it was Oliveira's turn, I got the feeling she was a bit fed up and wanted it all to be over with. Her own death scene seemed a bit awkward and rushed.

I'd be curious to know what the dancers thought of the atmosphere. It must have been especially hard for Oliveira this being her debut and all. I wonder at the wisdom of ENB of letting her make her debut in a school matinee - perhaps they should have given it to more experienced principals, though I can't see them letting Oaks and Edur have a go. In any case, a credit to all the dancers just for making it through. I marvel at the fact that they managed to stay in character, since I kept wanting to laugh. Sweet though, how at the end this one boy in front of me gave the dancers his own mini-standing ovation. All in all, not a very memorable R+J, but a good time nonetheless.

[ 06-20-2001: Message edited by: sylvia ]

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I don't think any of the regular posters on ANY of the boards seem to have seen it - they're probably across town watching the Kirov. Or maybe they had their fill of the round.

There's another Oliveira-Coppen and Oaks-Edur peformance on Saturday - maybe there'll be more reviews then.

[ 06-21-2001: Message edited by: sylvia ]

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