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English National Ballet's arena production of Romeo and Juliet in Melb

Guest Honglei Chen

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Guest Honglei Chen

ENB is back to Australia after performing the massy Swan Lake two years ago. This time, they will tour five cites, Sydney,Melbourne,Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, to give the arena production of Romeo and Juliet. I went to see their opening night in Melboourne yesterday.

When I learnt this matter last year, I really felt interested what kind of arena production they could make on Romeo and Juliet. Although the Swan Lake ENB brought here was proven to be a pure commerial operation, audience can still image the 60 swans or 60 wilis dancing together is an extremely enjoyable scene. But to Romeo and Juliet, how to employ so many dancers? in fight scene? As I thought, yesterday's performance could not match their Swan Lake.

First of all, the music was disappointed. There is no doult such kind of stadium ballet have to use sound amplification. The speaker system is not too bad. But both of the orchestra and conductor lacked passion they should have. Some of the pieces were so slow, the slow speed made me sleepy. If Charles Baker, the music director of Australian Ballet and ABT, were the conductor of this performance, the effect would be much better. The other point is the conductor should face the stage rather than face the audience. Maybe he couldn't do so when conducting in the Royal Albert Hall. But in the national tennis center in Melbourne, the orchestra platform was in the front of the stage, if let the orchestra change the direction, the conductor would watch the dancers. This is a very important difference between the theatre conductor and concert conductor, a good ballet conductor must response quickly to what is happening on the stage during the whole performance.

The leading dancers were Estonia-born Thomas Edur and Agnes Okas who were the guest artists. The technique of them were good but it was hardly to be moved because the distance between the dancers and me was so far. It is a challenge to the younger dancer to dance Juliet, maybe they look like on her age, but to be involved in the drama is not easy. I'd like to watch the old film which Margot Fonteyn danced Juliet. A friend in Beijing just told me she saw Evelyn Hart danced Juliet in Beijing with a company from Canada and felt extremely moved through her performance.

Apart from Romeo and Juliet, Tybalt gave me the deep impression, not only because the dancer, Shi-ning Liu, was from my country, China. He is senior soloist with the ENB. His acting was perfect, the technique as well.

Some of the scene is very beautiful, such as the 28 candles around the "dead" Juliet. But Derek Deane didn't choreograph the dance of the girls with lilies which made me a little bit disappointment. The performances were joined by the students from Australian Ballet School. (Derek Deane is in Shanghai, China, to direct Shanghai Ballet rehearsing a smaller size Swan Lake.)

Did anyone in Australia also attend ENB's Romeo and Juliet? Could you please tell us more about it?


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Honglei, the Canadian company which you referred to is the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Evelyn Hart danced with Olivier Wevers in Beijing. Do you know when the Shanghai Ballet is going to premiere Derek Deane's Swan Lake?

Unfortunately I missed ENB's Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Albert Hall in London last month, because their two-week season coincided with the Kirov season at Covent Garden.

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