Romeo and Juliet 2023
04/05/2023 - 06/05/2023
11/05/2023 - 13/05/2023
20/05/2023 - 20/05/2023
03/06/2023 - 03/06/2023
Royal New Zealand Ballet
ROYAL NEW ZEALAND BALLET’S SENSATIONAL ROMEO AND JULIET TOURS AOTEAROA IN MAY
Shakespeare’s great love story returns in May with the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s (RNZB) passionate re-telling of Romeo & Juliet touring to eight venues across the motu.
With mesmerising choreography by Andrea Schermoly (Stand to Reason, Within Without) and exquisite sets and costumes by Academy Award-winning designer James Acheson (The Last Emperor, Dangerous Liaisons), the RNZB’s Romeo & Juliet, in association with Avis, brings all the splendour and seduction of Renaissance Verona, the ferocity of two families in battle, and the heart-breakingly beautiful but ultimately tragic romance of literature’s famous star-crossed lovers.
The colour and vitality of the marketplace in which bawdy laughter turns to horror in the blink of an eye; the grandeur of the Capulet palazzo in which love blooms; and the intimacy of balcony, bedroom and tomb are all swept up in Prokofiev’s exhilarating, sensuous score.
Romeo & Juliet offers the RNZB’s dancers the chance to give, and audiences to experience, the performance of a lifetime.
Choreographer Andrea Schermoly says, “Romeo & Juliet is one of the ultimate romantic tragedies and a choreographic dream to embark on. It incorporates intense romance alongside ferocious family drama, luxurious glamour and heart wrenching tragedy. Creating this work with the RNZB is a career highlight for me. I’m thankful for this inspiring creative team and it is an honour to be working with James Acheson.”
Lee Marshall, General Manager of Avis New Zealand, says, “This is a special partnership for us, and we are delighted to start our journey together with such a memorable ballet. We share the RNZB’s commitment to excellence in everything we do and support the company’s exceptional dancers, who always inspire audiences with their talent, discipline and skill.”
The RNZB’s Romeo & Juliet, in association with Avis, tours to Wellington, Auckland, Dunedin, Christchurch, Palmerston North and Napier from 4 May. Principal Conductor Hamish McKeich will conduct the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (Wellington), the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, with a recording by Orchestra Wellington accompanying all other performances.
Choreography Andrea Schermoly
Music Sergei Prokofiev
Design James Acheson
Lighting Jeremy Fern
Conductor Hamish McKeich
Fight Director Simon Manns
Intimacy co-ordinator Megan Adams
Presented in association with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (Wellington), Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra (Auckland) and the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra (Christchurch).
3 hours including intermission
A gripping romantic tale.
Review by Tania Kopytko 05th Jun 2023
It can be dangerous to create a new version of a timeless classic ballet and an internationally known play and story, using such a well-known Prokofiev composition, but choreographer Andrea Schermoly has succeeded in creating a new, fresh balletic interpretation of Romeo and Juliet. For me, the strength of this production is in the strong integration of theatricality with movement and a great sense of the music. Here the story line is continual throughout the ballet performance, whereas other versions can have a tendency to separate the dance and the acting, rather like providing a dance diversion and then resuming the story.
The company’s performance in Palmerston North embodied this integration of dance and drama fully. From a glance or a scowl, or raging anguished arms to delicate lifts and meaningful group clusters. Words seem clumsy, when describing the complex, dense, beautiful and vibrant choreography and acting. All this is complemented by an extraordinary and beautiful set and divine sumptuous costumes (James Acheson) and clever and artistic lighting (Jeremy Fern).
Schermoly says in the programme notes that “I’ve felt fulfilled and emboldened to highlight the tenacious wilfulness of Juliet. She is one of Shakespeare’s greatest heroines who chose her own path against the barbaric, patriarchal rules that forced a young woman into marriage and motherhood without consent”. Ana Gallardo Lobaina dances and portrays such a Juliet. The innocence of youth, vivaciousness, determination knocked with indecision, and performed with liquidity and such lightness. Ana embodies Juliet in every move and every facial gesture, never at any time being out of the moment. It is an extraordinary and breath-taking performance. Congratulations Ana!
Romeo, performed by Calum Gray, is the epitome of naïve teenage recklessness. There is an innocent youthfulness in him that compliments Ana’s Juliet. It is a lovely pairing. However, at times he is caught by the timeless classical ballet problem. As a male partner he is sometimes a prop, stepping behind the ballerina to lift and hold and then resuming his role as an acting, responding partner. Integrating the two aspects is difficult, especially when care and attention must be made to the technicalities of partnering a pirouette or arabesque. However, eye contact and interaction is there, whenever Gray and Gallardo Lobaina glance into each other’s eyes, and dance for and with each other – he with a gentle boyish smile, she with sparkling eyes and joy. The two soloists have the strength and ability to tell the story to its tragic end. The choreography allows them to tell the complex tale in ever evolving solos and duets, loaded with expression. It is a complex piece to master. Bravo.
Romeo’s friends Mercutio (Kihiro Kukusami) and Benvolio (Shaun James Kelly) dance superbly, with strong, expressive elevation. Their characters and movements embody the recklessness and goading that some young male roosters cannot help but express. Their adversary, Tybalt (Laurynas Vėjalis) is strong as the intolerant, arrogant, cocksure guardian of the Capulets. His performance is superb.
Sara Garbowski plays a majestic Lady Capulet, haughty, aloof and formal, but revealing her anger and grief when Tybalt is killed, hinting at a possible deeper relationship. The scene where she hits Juliet in grief and anger because Juliet refuses the chosen suitor, is a great piece of drama. Also, in the same scene, the quartet with Lord and Lady Capulet, the suitor and Juliet is beautifully choreographed, illuminating the strained relationships and tangled inner feelings hidden through the quartet’s movements, stillness’s and within Juliet’s plaintive movements around them. Other duets and pairings are equally expressive and effective. All the choreography beautifully expresses the soaring and dramatic music and timing.
Paris (Matthew Slattery) is suitably formal, without being over dramatic and an excellent foil for Romeo. Lord Capulet (Damani Campbell Williams) is regal and seeks peace until his patience is tried too much, but is less theatrically expressive than some lead dancers.
Like the Shakespeare play, all facets of love, attraction and sex are offered up to provide the setting for this tragic love story. The harlots are wonderful (Jennifer Uloa, Kirby Selchow, Macy Cook) with choreography that allows them to romp and flaunt, the rhythms of the “folksy” music elements echoed in their movements. Perhaps the least strong part is the famous ball scene with its well-known melodic march. We are used to it starting with a full cast but Schermoly begins it with some of the main characters and then it develops. Once it gets into full swing it is grand and the addition of the intrigue and interactions make it special to this ballet.
This is a wonderful production of Romeo and Juliet – congratulations Royal New Zealand Ballet Company.
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Devote attention to the company’s past as well as to its future.
Review by Dr Ian Lochhead 28th May 2023
For regular followers of the Royal New Zealand Ballet the current staging of Romeo and Juliet, now reaching its final performances of the season in Christchurch, has something of a makeshift quality. Initiated in 2017 by previous artistic director, Francesco Ventriglia, who also choreographed, it had sets and costumes by American designer, James Acheson. This new version retains Acheson’s designs but introduces new choreography by Andrea Schermoly into the existing framework. The 2017 iteration of the production was only a mixed success and this new version fares no better. Given the constraints of the creative framework within which within Schermoly was required to work it is perhaps surprising that the production succeeds as well as it does.
Part of the problem is Acheson’s realistic but cumbersome set. The stage is given a heavy architectural framework that leads the eye to a seemingly endless flight of steps in forced Renaissance perspective, culminating in the distant façade of a Romanesque church, perhaps intended to represent Verona’s famed San Zeno’s basilica. Since Verona is, in fact, flat this is something of a topographical anomaly but it has the added disadvantage of limiting the performance space and gives the whole production a constricted feel. Although the transitions from one scene to another work well enough to accommodate the cinematic sweep of Prokofiev’s score there are some incongruous effects, such the presence of what appears to be an altarpiece on the wall of Juliet’s bedchamber, immediately above the bed on which the two lovers consummate their marriage.
Schermoly is at her best with the ballroom and crowd scenes in the market place where large cohorts of dancers are skilfully marshalled. However, the fights between the warring Capulets and Montagues never really catch fire and it is hard to believe that the conflict is a larger one than that fuelled by Tybalt’s fury over a Montague trying to seduce his cousin, Juliet. He eventually picks a fight with Romeo’s friend, Mercutio, in order to create a pretext to attack and kill Romeo himself. The drawn-out death of Mercutio, in which no one quite believes until he actually falls dead, is a turning point in the drama, but here the tragic undertone, so obvious in Prokofiev’s music, is insufficiently weighted so that the building tension is undercut by the light-hearted behaviour of the crowd. The temptation to play for laughs should also have been resisted during the marriage of Romeo and Juliet, one of the still, solemn moments within the drama’s remorseless passage towards tragedy. Nervous titters from the audience also betrayed other misjudgements of tone as the ballet’s mood progressively darkened.
In any production of Romeo and Juliet the balcony and bedroom pas de deux are key moments in which our sympathy for the young lovers should be cemented. Prokofiev provides all the support necessary for the build up of passion from tentative advances to final embrace but Schermoly’s choreography is too generalised to bring out the emotional escalation of this charged moment. The same is true of the bedroom pas de deux, in which the conflicting emotions of the lovers, who know that staying together will spell certain death for Romeo, is insufficiently brought out. Nor is there any hint of the growing light of dawn which signals the urgent need for Romeo’s escape.
Within this uneven framework Kate Kadow was a touching Juliet alongside Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson’s open-hearted Romeo. To the thankless role of Paris, Juliet’s approved suitor, Damani Campbell Williams brought calmness and dignity. Branden Reiners’ Tybalt was a small town tough spoiling for a fight while Dane Head’s Mercutio caught the character’s insouciant charm. In the combined roles of the Prince of Verona and Friar Lawrence one sorely missed Sir Jon Trimmer’s commanding presence as the former and solicitous care as the later, not to mention his innate sense of stagecraft. The musicians of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, normally such a reliable stage band, sounded under-rehearsed, although Hamish McKeich was able to summon a devastatingly powerful climax to set the final act in motion.
A compelling production of Romeo and Juliet is an asset to any ballet company but this uneven version doesn’t fulfil that role. The odd thing about the company’s decision to remount this Romeo and Juliet with new choreography is that it already had in its repertoire just such a production, Christopher Hampson’s 2003 staging with a superbly efficient set by Tracey Grant Lord. Set during the post-World War Two Italian ‘Renaissance’ it gave a distinctive new twist to the timeless story. What’s more it was critically acclaimed when toured to the United Kingdom in 2004. As Judith Mackrell, the Guardian’s hard-to-please dance critic noted at the time, ‘it has the heat, hormones and energy of a real teenage love story’. Why has such a valuable asset been squandered? Indeed, one can ask the same question of many outstanding former productions that appear to have been consigned to oblivion. At a time when arts funding everywhere is under pressure one must ask why better value is not derived from the significant investment represented by new productions. It is worth pointing out that the Mariinsky Ballet still performs its original 1940s production of Romeo and Juliet, John Cranko’s 1962 production is still performed by the Stuttgart Ballet while Kenneth MacMillan’s 1965 version for the Royal Ballet has been continually in the company’s repertoire ever since.
Now in its 70th season, it is time the Royal New Zealand Ballet recognized that it has a valuable collection of past productions available to it that have helped to define it as a company. It could start by recovering some of these treasures in order to build up a distinctive repertoire of known and loved works that would also allow it to draw on the untapped resource that is its former dancers. One of the characteristic features of other dance companies is that key roles are handed down from one generation of dancers to the next so that productions are enriched by the accumulated knowledge and experience of roles that is developed over time. Had, for example, Hampson’s Romeo and Juliet been revived four or five times over the last twenty years the choreography would have no doubt been tweaked to fit new casts and performances would have gained in depth as a result. Instead we are all too often presented with a succession of novelties that seldom evolve beyond a first draft. Of course, every ballet company needs to commission new works but this needs to be balanced by a responsibility to maintain the best of its past repertoire.
With a newly appointed executive director soon to come on board and a new artistic director imminent, it is surely time for the board of the Royal New Zealand Ballet to take the initiative to encourage the new leadership team to devote attention to the company’s past as well as to its future. Let us see revivals of the Russell Kerr and Kristian Fredrikson Swan Lake, of Gray Veredon’s Servant of Two Masters and other works that are gone but not yet forgotten. Unless audiences are allowed to experience what has been achieved in the past it will remain impossible for them to judge the worth of what is being presented in the future.
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Aesthetic pleasure in spades
Review by Hannah Molloy 22nd May 2023
A riot of swirling velvets and gossamer silks, a riot of swords and brawling, of dancing, of emotions – the Royal New Zealand Ballet delivered a variety of riots but without a sense of it being a riotous evening. Romeo and Juliet is filled with tempestuous emotion and vigorous dancing but somehow leaves a gentle and pensive mood.
Kate Kadow is a dainty Juliet, ephemeral and sweet, balancing the lines between the tumultuous moods of a teenager, the innocence of a child and the grief of a bereft lover. It goes without saying that these lines are intrinsic to the role – the whole point of it you might say – but Kadow eases from one to the next, blurring them and driving home the layers of the tragedy of her story with joyous feet and grieving arms. She’s truly beautiful when she struggles to accept her parents’ directive to marry Paris and joins their tableau of cold tradition. I did think it seemed unfair that she had to crawl to her deathbed twice but it really is Juliet’s story and, for an almost ghostly presence, dressed in virginal whites and soft yellows among the jewel-toned cast, Kadow’s storytelling holds more than just the superficial drama.
Perhaps I was too bound up in the unfairness of Juliet’s situation and Kadow’s portrayal of it (as well as costume and set designer James Acheson’s choices for her) but it felt that the cast, including the other major parts, moved around her. This is not a commentary on the skill of any of the dancers, but simply a musing on my experience of the evening and why I watch performing arts – what do I want or expect to take away with me?
Romeo, Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, is sprightly and effervescent until he’s not, and then he’s broken and tragic. Paris the character is appropriately bland, but Damani Campbell Williams is anything but as he performs a mix of privilege and complacency with a stirring grace. I was struck often about the absolute confidence that comes with precision training – he would put out his hand and Kadow, coming from behind him, would be there to place hers in it without a millisecond of mistiming. I also took pause to notice the stillness of a dancer before leaping into their next movement sequence – Jake Gisby sends Benvolio back onto centre stage after no more than a pause, a gathering of himself. These moments of stillness appeared throughout, notably also by Mayu Tanigaito (one of Juliet’s friends) and Jennifer Ulloa (the nurse), giving the audience subtle respite from the colour and energy of the choreography and the music. Tybalt (Brandon Reiners) and Mercutio (Dane Head) are funny, foolish, measured, and sympathetic. Kirby Selchow brings her signature boldness to the role of one of the harlots, with Grethchen Steimle and Jemima Scott holding their own (but Selchow had the best dress – red and orange leopard print velvet with red fringing!) Nick Schultz as the Prince of Verona has a small part but he dominates the stage for those brief moments in his silver and grey magnificence.
Speaking of magnificence, Ana Gallardo Lobaina is the epitome of the word, as Lady Capulet but maybe also in general – she makes me think ‘magnificent’ every time I watch her. She seems to strike the right note with her displays of extravagant emotion, so they don’t offer a caricature, but there’s also an underlying humour, perhaps a self-awareness of the largeness of her displays.
The scene that will stay with me I think is the ball – the luxeness and sheer volume of shimmering velvet in those gorgeous jewel tones filled my decadence cup to the brim – to very loosely paraphrase my guest, aesthetic pleasure really is enough reason for something. Romeo and Juliet had aesthetic pleasure in spades and I think that is plenty for me to expect and to take away with me.
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Visually stunning and dramatically compelling.
Review by Francesca Horsley 13th May 2023
The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s new production of Romeo and Juliet is visually stunning and dramatically compelling. Choreographer Andrea Schermoly has not tampered with the original Shakespeare, positioning it in medieval, Italy, where aristocratic families vied for dominance, and their daughters were traded in marriage to grow dynasties.
Schermoly’s retelling of the tragedy, with finely crafted movement and clear articulate composition, takes us to the intensity of the tale afresh. And once again, the ballet and Sergei Prokofiev’s wonderful music are perfect mediums for one of the great love stories of all time. The design by James Acheson, complete with a dazzling array of 77 costumes, is true to Renaissance times – the weighted heavy silks, brocades, velvets of the Capulet nobility, the vibrant colour of the marketplace characters and the delicacy of Juliet’s pastel dresses.
Acheson’s impressive set is an authentic rendering of the Renaissance Gothic style of Verona, in the north of Italy. The beautiful yet somewhat claustrophobic architecture illuminates the dramatic storyline, and serves as a metaphor for an inward-looking society that fails to heed the sacrifices it imposes on its young citizens. Despite its imposing size, the set moves swiftly from the interface of the marketplace, to the granite gates of the Capulet’s castle, to Juliet’s beautiful bed chamber.
From the outset, violence dominates as Verona’s day-to-day life is engulfed by sparring nobles. Directed by Simon Manns, the fights go from clashing swords, lunging daggers to hand-to-hand combat. The combustible power of the Capulets is easily enraged by the provocative Montagues.
Katherine Minor and Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson are the epitome of young love – impetuous, soft and idealistic. Their characterisations are convincing, and throughout their passionate dancing you never doubt for a minute their desire for each other. Minor’s Juliet has a headstrong, emotional power that places her on a hazardous pathway. Petite, she is physically dwarfed by the stone interior of the Capulet villa that bears down on her, but sustained by her own spring of hope and freedom she courageously takes on the hegemonic forces of male power.
In scenes with her arranged suitor, Paris, sympathetically danced by Matthew Slattery, Minor excels in conveying her bewilderment as she is ordered to relinquish her girlhood for an unwanted marriage –which she ultimately accepts with numb desperation. Her dancing is a joy to watch, mastering the choreographic motifs and challenges of Schermoly’s elegant style.
Guillemot-Rodgerson travels from a dreamy young man in love with the idea of love, to the realities of love itself. When he recklessly infiltrates the Capulet masked ball, along with his friends Benevolio and Mercutio, they invoke the full wrath of the Capulets – and Romeo finds true love. Guillemot-Rodgerson is quick and entertaining as he flirts with Juliet, then as their love blossoms in the balcony scene, he dances with increasing ardour. As the storyline reaches a crescendo, he shows a mastery of clever swordsmanship, athletic solos and intense romantic partnering.
The daring showmanship of Mercutio, danced with swashbuckling style by Kihiro Kusukami provokes a deadly intent in Tybalt, the Capulets’ enforcer, danced with menacing power by Branden Reiners. Both artists’ characterisation is utterly convincing as Mercutio’s bright light is extinguished by Tybalt’s cold darkness. This pivotal scene is a choreographic masterclass of sustained, mounting tension, and while we know the inevitable outcome of the fight seals the fate of the young lovers, it nevertheless comes as a dramatic shock.
Schermoly’s holistic choreography allows all soloists to shine, with its clever blend of measured contemporary style, exacting pointe work and classical ballet’s vocabulary. The production has a coherence and symmetry that gives the entire company the opportunity to showcase its creativity and professionalism. The depth of talent and artistry is evident – a legacy of Patricia Barker’s tenure as artistic director. The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted with great aplomb by Hamish McKeich, illuminated Prokofiev’s evocative score.
It is a wonderful ballet.
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Believably and eloquently brought to life
Review by Lyne Pringle 06th May 2023
Shakespeare’s oft told tale of love thwarted by an inter family feud, provides the scaffolding for Andrea Schermoly’s stylish version by the Royal New Zealand Ballet. That a woman is at the choreographic helm of a classic is testament to outgoing director Patricia Barker. Bravo! An added bonus is the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Hamish McKeich playing Sergei Prokofiev’s, very long, intricate score. Read more.
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Twisted ties, youth, power, class, feud, rivalry, glamour, sex, romance
Review by Deirdre Tarrant 06th May 2023
The Royal New Zealand Ballet is home in a gilded St James Theatre. Our New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of the magical and intrepid Hamish McKeich with the well-known music by Serge Prokofiev, sets the stage for one of the most famous love stories ever told. Twisted ties, youth, power, class, feud, rivalry, glamour, sex, romance and the eternal tensions of mankind are on stage.
This is a sumptuous visual feast of texture and colour designed by James Acheson to give us a rich ballet and a very traditional storytelling. The costumes are voluptuous and the fabric provides contrast to match the emotions – the soft silks of young beautiful and wealthy maidens, the practical weight of the nurse’s skirts and the embellished tapestries of the Capulets and Montagues evoke not only a place but also the societal and personal realities that make this a timeless horror story.
There is much fighting and the staging of foils daggers and swords is masterfully set by Simon Manns. The set overpowers the space and the cramped space of both court and market square gives these scenes a tension that reflects the unfolding drama.
But we have really come to see the dancing and we are not disappointed. From the first step that he takes onstage Joshua Guillemot- Rogerson as Romeo absolutely shines. With light ballon, excellent musicality and classical technique, an ease of elevation and excellent lines he is in every way a quintessential Romeo. His friends Mercutio (Kihiro Kusukami) and Benvolio (Shaun James Kelly) clearly adore him and these three lads have some of the best dancing in this ballet.
They totally deliver with strong technical virtuosity and rapier-swift clarity. There is the mischievousness, the tempestuous competitiveness and the bravura of youth that very clearly will get them into trouble – and it does. Kusukami as the mercurial Mercutio has the audience on his side all the way and Laurynas Vejalis as Tybalt is the baddie incarnate, dancing with authority and command.
They dance to the death. This inevitable result of youth and rivalry still plays out in the young of today and so does the power, parental control and gang loyalty . . . but it is the romance and instant attraction to Juliet that takes Romeo to his fateful end. Katherine Minot as Juliet is beautiful and her dancing softens as her love becomes encompassing. Her acting takes us on this journey of star-crossed lovers and there is no going back for her nor for us. The famous balcony scene is a little stilted and hard (but so is a new relationship) and I willed these two to look at each other as they danced the soaring lifts in a pas de deux that reflects the tumult of this fated attraction. Later, as the tragedy reaches its climax, the crypt scene is powerful and lets passion and tragedy speak through the movement.
Choreography by Andrea Schermoly is strong throughout as she stages her version of this timeless classic but it is a busy ballet. The dancers relish their parts and the company is in great shape. There is good ensemble work and a sense of style from the palace to the street. This production has passion and pace and tells the story but it is in the total stillness of the final deaths that I hear the audience breath and emotions surface.
All the support characters engage well with a cameo in the playing of Friar John by Dane Head and poignant maternal grief by Sara Garbowski as Lady Capulet.
Using humour and sometimes tilting on the edge of travesty Schermoly plays with fire but ultimately makes her Romeo and Juliet work. The audience loves it – the applause says it all and this is a great night at the ballet!
If I have any quibbles they are with the technical aspects of the production – first night maybe? But lighting needs to respond to mood and music and take time to set its imprint on the story – abrupt endings both visually and in use of the score break the continuity and the magic. The curtain needs to fall on the music and with the choreography.
This world is both of the past and for the present. Don’t miss it. Thank you to all onstage and best wishes to the RNZB as they tour this treat around Aotearoa.
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