ROMEO & JULIET - the Royal NZ Ballet 2017

St James Theatre 2, Wellington

16/08/2017 - 20/08/2017

Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch

25/08/2017 - 26/08/2017

ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

30/08/2017 - 03/09/2017

Regent Theatre, The Octagon, Dunedin

13/09/2017 - 14/09/2017

Regent On Broadway, Palmerston North

21/09/2017 - 21/09/2017

Municipal Theatre, Napier

24/09/2017 - 24/09/2017

Production Details

Fall in love this winter with the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s world premiere of Romeo and Juliet

A sunlit piazza, the candlelit corner of a noble ballroom, a moonlit balcony… when young lovers meet, the world is stilled… then changed forever.

Italian choreographer Francesco Ventriglia creates a new production of Shakespeare’s great love story, especially for the Royal New Zealand Ballet.  This brand new ballet, with exquisite sets and costumes by Academy Award winning designer James Acheson (The Last Emperor, Dangerous Liaisons) brings to life all of the splendour and seduction of Renaissance Verona.  Join us as we follow the Montagues and Capulets in Shakespeare’s original tale of two star-crossed lovers through desire, struggle and tragedy

Prokofiev’s passionate score will be performed live in Wellington, Christchurch, Auckland and Dunedin; a specially-made recording will accompany performances in other centres. Sure to be the highlight of the 2017 arts calendar this is a production not to be missed.

In a first for the RNZB, and thanks to Auckland Live, we are delighted to offer a live audio description of Romeo and Juliet  for blind and visually impaired patrons at the performance on Sunday 3 September.

The Ryman Healthcare Season of Romeo and Juliet is a Partner Event of Christchurch Arts Festival

Running time is approximately 3 hours including two interval.


Dates/times and bookings – see


Dance ,

3 hours

A grand spectacle

Review by Kim Buckley 25th Sep 2017

It is a grand spectacle to behold. From beginning to end, I find myself, at times, holding my breath or unable to break my gaze. From the thematic tension and drama, the love and tenderness, or the grief and revenge. A timeless tragedy of youthful misunderstanding and political and religious dis-ease, Francesco Ventriglia has created a work that speaks through his Italian DNA. This is the first time Ventriglia has worked with a Dramaturg and Mario Mattia Giorgetti has a long and distinguished career in the dramatic arts.

Each character has a repertoire that encapsulates their personal story. In program notes, Ventriglia states “It’s not enough just to make beautiful steps, they have to be true to the characters and the story.” Even though each character has their own thematic motif in the Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) composition, one can easily read each character without the score, according to Ventriglia’s choreography.

Madeleine Graham is youthful, strong, resilient, and light as Juliet. Matching her as Romeo, Joseph Skelton is valiant in his strength of character and romance. Together, they are an emotionally convincing historical coupling. Other characters to mention are Tybalt – Paul Mathews; Lord Montague – Loughlan Prior; Lady Montague – Sophie Arbuckle; Nurse – Laura Saxon Jones; and Friar Laurence – Sir Jon Trimmer. The convincing Harlots from the town square gave us something to be gobsmacked about, thank you to Katie Hurst-Saxton, Sara Garbowski and Kirby Selchow. 

The Academy Award-winning James Acheson has designed extraordinary renaissance costumes and a truly three-dimensional set that shifts and recreates itself with silent ease. 

I would quite possibly go and see this work again.


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Sumptuous styling

Review by Tania Kopytko 23rd Sep 2017

Palmerston North’s beautiful Regent Theatre is a magnificent setting for the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s sumptuous performance of Francesco Ventriglia’s Romeo and Juliet.  It is as if the beautiful set (costume and set designer James Acheson) is designed to fit in with the tones and textures of the theatre interior, surrounding us with renaissance Verona. Then we are treated to the gorgeous costumes and divine dance. In a radio interview, Ventriglia said he wished to put Italy clearly into this version of Romeo and Juliet. This he and his artistic team achieved, through hot temperaments and the vivacity, grandeur, and style of the Italian “Carnevale” festival.

As with the Shakespearian tale, all aspects of love, lust, and chasteness are explored, providing great moments of dramatic dancing and narrative contrast. As a company, the dancing is very assured and technically satisfying. In addition, the acting (dramaturg Mario Mattia Giorgetti) is equally assured and excellent, with narrative passages of delicate nuance or complex anguish and passion. The clarity is almost as if they are speaking. Linking all of this together is Prokofiev’s brilliant score, here an excellent, specially made, recording by Orchestra Wellington, conducted by Hamish McKeich.

Mayu Tanigaito is a delicate but determined Juliet. Her performance is technically exquisite, precise and intense, showing us the innocent and playful girl and the young woman ignited by love. Kohei Iwamoto is perfectly matched technically and expressively as her Romeo, the young man so besotted and so blind to the perils this love match would bring. In this version, he is so overcome and headstrong with passion, that he not only kills Tybalt to avenge the death of Mercutio but also at the end kills Juliet’s suitor Paris, with no provocation from Paris. 

Choreographically, Ventriglia uses a vast array of soaring lifts in Romeo and Juliet’s pas de deux and often at a very fast tempo, with the occasional tender slower moment and kiss. Amazingly the two dancers manage to dance beyond this technical challenge and still clearly express their developing relationship. The Act III pas de deux, when Juliet is comatose from the sleeping potion, is profound and technically complex. Other standout moments are the fight scene in Act II with particularly wonderful dance and acting from Shaun Kelly as Mercutio, matched by the menacing Branden Reiners as Tybalt. Laura Saxton Jones performs an imperious and anguished Lady Capulet, while Paul Mathews is a distant and disdainful Lord Capulet. Abigail Boyle expertly plays the nurse role and Sir Jon Trimmer, so popular with Palmerston North balletomanes, is a wonderful Friar Laurence. The entire company performs wonderfully, giving us the contrasts between the harlots’ lusty style (Leonora Voigtlander, Yang Lui and Georgia Powley) and Juliet’s cultured friends (Tonia Looker, Kirby Selchow, Katherine Minor and Sara Garbowski). Felipe Domingos and Yuri Marques stand out in the testosterone-charged male ranks.

Thank you RNZB for a wonderful production and performance.


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Luxury, spectacle, and some stand-out moments

Review by Hannah Molloy 14th Sep 2017

The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet is a feast for the eyes, layers of luscious colour and fabric, an incredible set, and exquisite technique. The dancers filled the stage with constant motion made larger by their absolutely incredible costumes.

Somehow though, the choreography of this work didn’t show me the best in these dancers, although halfway through the tour of such a strenuous work, perhaps they’re tired as well. A trip to see the RNZB always carries the anticipation of luxury, spectacle and perfection. The luxury and the spectacle were there in plenty, but I didn’t experience the perfection of the company’s recent performances.

There were very few moments of stillness to provide a foil to the largeness of the choreography and a lot of the dancing seemed somehow lacklustre, as though performed by rote. The costume and set design, as well as the lighting and the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra’s performance distracted from it but, and it grieves me to say it, Romeo & Juliet didn’t wow me to the degree I had been expecting.

The dancers’ technique was flawless, and they created personalities for their roles with more than the steps – facial expressions, twitches of a shoulder, a stamping foot, all gave colour to the story. It was easy to watch and be amused by the characters at the side of the stage as well as those dominating the centre. However, some of the comic moments seemed out of place, with too much emphasis and a little contrived.

Joseph Skelton carried the show as Romeo – he was truly remarkable to watch, lifting and leaping for three hours and not a sign of fatigue to be seen. His lines were lovely and his pathos mournful. Juliet, danced by Madeleine Graham, was a sweet, dainty but tiresome and wilful teenager. Her expression of tragedy was stronger and more believable than her romance. (That’s perhaps true of all teenagers though.) Abigail Boyle was, as always, deeply beautiful in her haughty coldness and the moments when she danced were exquisite.  Jacob Chown was sturdy and unforgiving as Lord Capulet. Massimo Margaria, Fillippo Valmorbida and Paul Matthews brought spice and sparkle as the various henchmen – Matthews makes a great baddy and was the lightest on his feet of all. The harlots were saucy and garish, as all good harlots should be. The ball and market scenes were like a swarm of butterflies, flickering colour and never settling for a moment.

Standout moments were the sword fight between Tybalt (Matthews) and Mercutio (Margaria) and Romeo’s dance of desperation with his dead Juliet – I would happily watch the show again for this scene. 


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Panache, precision and passion

Review by Raewyn Whyte 05th Sep 2017

The Royal New Zealand Ballet salutes outgoing artistic director Francesco Ventriglia with an altogether splendid and triumphant 3 hour production of his newly choreographed Romeo and Juliet.

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Rich, satisfying and not to be missed

Review by Brigitte Knight 31st Aug 2017

Former Royal New Zealand Ballet Artistic Director Francesco Ventriglia has left Aotearoa with a theatrical spectacular in Romeo and Juliet. The production retains a strongly Italian flavour, creating a Renaissance Verona of sumptuous textiles, elegant nobles, golden masks and Catholic architecture.

With set and costumes by award-winning designer James Acheson, this Romeo and Juliet always promised to be visually impressive. The working production in action, however, exceeds all expectations. Ingeniously designed, the set rotates and adapts to create the varied settings of Shakespeare’s iconic play; Juliet’s balcony is revealed before our eyes, distorted perspective gives depth to Verona’s piazza, stone work reflects the midday Italian sun, the painting dominating Juliet’s bedroom is inspired by Cimabue, and the church’s crucifix by Giotto. Transitions between scenes are perfectly considered, and as well-choreographed as the rest of the ballet, and there is a nod to breaking the fourth wall as Juliet’s nurse draws an immense curtain in Act III.

Acheson’s costumes are enriched by historical accuracy and designed to be as close to Renaissance ballet costumes as possible. Lady Capulet’s silhouette is especially eye-catching, and starkly contrasted with Juliet’s youthful, pastel dresses. Along with being visually spectacular, the design elements of Romeo and Juliet are both secured in historical authenticity, and recognisably Veronese.

The artists of the Royal New Zealand Ballet are strong and masterful throughout this production. Madeleine Graham, in her first principal role as Juliet, is in full control of the stage and technically at the top of her game. Her powerful, effortless grace and remarkable speed across the floor is as impressive as her trembling, fragile couru (the tiny rapid steps sur les pointes that enable dancers to create the illusion of floating or gliding). Graham’s pas de deux in her death-like state in Act III is superbly danced and choreographed, and she performs the role with a detailed sense of character. With her remarkable Juliet, Graham has firmly established her place in New Zealand dance.

Joseph Skelton dances Romeo with technical control, and clarity of movement. His pirouettes are perfectly sustained, and he manages impressive speed in some unconventional pas de deux choreography. Mercutio, danced by Massimo Margaria, is an audience favourite; the strength of his characterisation and fluidity of physical expression grew throughout the performance. Nuances of Margaria’s movement vocabulary are aptly complemented by Ventriglia’s choreographic detail.

 Three Harlots have a significant role to play in the piazza scenes of Romeo and Juliet. Lead Harlot, Katie-Hurst Saxton, is in her dramatic element here; fiery, engaging and full of fun. The Harlots are one example of several elements in the production which are slightly adult, unconventional, and pleasingly sophisticated. Ventriglia’s clever choreography as Romeo and his friends infiltrate the spectacular Capulet ballroom scene, and a delicious choreographic choice for Lady Capulet at Tybalt’s death and two more.

Lady Capulet is superbly performed by Abigail Boyle; this is an opportunity to appreciate both her skill as an actor and dancer and her emotional range. Alongside Jacob Chown, as Lord Capulet, the pair deliver a powerful and fully-realised duo. The development of Lady Capulet is indicative of the close proximity of Ventriglia’s production to Shakespeare’s text. Fans of Romeo and Juliet on screen, in the theatre, or in its original form will appreciate the realisation of detailed plot development and characterisation transformed into movement.

Romeo and Juliet utilises Prokofiev’s full score, performed by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and conducted by Hamish McKeich. Choreographers often abridge Romeo and Juliet for modern productions, and it is only the length of the Juliet’s Friends dance in Act III that feels as though it could be edited here.

Ventriglia and Royal New Zealand Ballet have a phenomenal production in Romeo and Juliet; rich, satisfying and not to be missed.


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Montague vs. Capulet – the Ballet wins

Review by Andrew Shepherd 26th Aug 2017

Rich and sumptuous costumes, a clever and well utilised set, the well-known story with an easy to grasp narrative, and a score of strangely familiar music: there is a lot to like about this ballet.  The dancing could get lost amongst all of this layered richness, but instead emerges triumphant; thanks in large part to the perfect casting of Madeleine Graham as Juliet. Graham’s technical mastery of the choreography appears effortless and combines with artful nuance and characterization to make her completely believable as a young teenager in love.   Enthusiastic, vulnerable, and passionate, Graham embodies Juliet until the final ovation.

The three young men from the rival Montague family – Joseph Skelton as Romeo, Massimo Margaria as Mercutio, and Filippo Valmorbida as Benvolio –  have an appealing camaraderie and vibrancy that make it a pleasure whenever they take the stage. As Benvolio and Mercutio, Valmorbida and Margaria epitomize energetic bravado and contrast nicely with their quieter friend Romeo, the thoughtful lover.  Strong and assured in the unison passages, they each bring an individual flair to the choreography that helps define their character, and makes it their own.  Skelton’s delivery of the choreography appears a little measured at times, with a lack of facial expression that keeps him at a remove from the other dancers and his audience. However he is perfectly matched physically to his Juliet, and comes into his own when dancing with his young love.  The final ‘Death duet’ is spellbinding, moving, and passionate; a tribute to the talent of these two young artists.  She assists him in the physically demanding lifts and changes of position without appearing to do so. His strength and technique are faultless and his grief is palpable.

The rest of the company performs admirably in a nicely varied range of supporting roles.  The three harlots are particularly engaging (if refreshingly clean). Laura Saxon Jones as Juliet’s Nurse is a warm and sympathetic foil for the formal and correct presence of her parents. Abigail Boyle commands the stage as Lady Capulet, regally conducting her affair with Tybalt (Paul Matthews) under the apparently benign gaze of her husband (Loughlan Prior).  Sir Jon Trimmer is gently compelling as Friar Laurence, beautifully timing each of the scenes he leads and clearly inspiring those around him to relax and shine.  While the technical execution is not without fault – it is live theatre after all – the way in which the dancers effortlessly push past small hiccups demonstrates their commitment and professionalism at all times.

Francesco Ventriglia’s choreography of this new ‘classical’ ballet is not flawless, but is impressive nevertheless. Traditional without being formulaic, there a few minor theatre conventions that unfortunately miss the mark for me; especially the use of frieze and slow motion during the ball scene. In general, the first two acts romp by; action packed and moving the narrative along effortlessly.  The fight scenes are well staged and well rehearsed, while remaining suitably integrated with the dance that surrounds them. Parts of Act Three are a little drawn out; particularly Juliet’s decision to fake her own death, and the discovery that she is sleeping by her friends. Her four friends dance a beautiful quartet that is unfortunately too late in the overall piece to receive its full due. All is redeemed beautifully by the final pas de deux however, and the audience leaves with a sense of deep satisfaction.

From the opening chords, the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra transports us to Renaissance Verona and sets the tone for a memorable evening.  Conductor Hamish Mckeich – who is touring with the company to ensure a consistent voice for Sergei Prokofiev’s ‘most enduring and most popular work’ – apparently spoke at the pre-performance talk about the challenges and rewards of playing live for dance. Unfortunately I was unable to hear this first-hand, but my companion for the evening and I both felt that hearing this music live, and in the context for which it was written, added a vital layer to a completely satisfying evening. A full-length ballet, with a live orchestra, in the beautifully refurbished Isaac Theatre Royal; James Acheson’s exquisitely detailed set and costumes perfectly complement this new classical ballet, which feels completely at home in this stunning venue. The large Christchurch audience was vocal in its approval of this fine and fitting addition to the RNZB’s repertoire.


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Sumptuous, extravagant and of a bygone era

Review by Deirdre Tarrant 17th Aug 2017

Sumptuous, extravagant and of a bygone era- this production is the swansong of ex- director Francesco Ventriglia who has choreographed his own version of this timeless story. The music by Sergei Prokofiev is well played by our own Orchestra Wellington and under the emotive baton of Hamish McKeich they build all the climaxes of the ballet brilliantly.

The production team James Acheson (Design and Costumes) Jon Bushell (Lighting) Gillian Whittingham (Choreographic Assistant) and Mario Mattia Giorgetti( Dramaturg) bring a very Veronese flavour to the stage. The costuming is simply splendid although how they dance in all those clothes is a miracle. The detailing and fabrics of each individual costume are a visual treat and although a little cumbersome, the set takes us firmly to another time and place. Oddly it is the big set sections of the ballet that are weakest. The Ballroom scene seem restricted and a little clumsy and the market place scenes are rather stop/start as set pieces are interpolated rather than evolving from the story. T

The soloists all take their musical motifs, build their characters and dance with technical assurance and control.  There is some of the best staged combat I have seen. Superb use of foils and fighting and the men throughout are strong and very convincing. Both Jon Trimmer (Friar Laurence) and Laura Saxton-Jones (Nurse) draw their roles sympathetically and traditionally and are the non- partisan supporters of the narrative.  Paul Mathews as Tybalt is evil and every inch the leader and Don Juan of the Capulets. The love story between him and Abigail Boyle  as Lady Capulet almost steals the night! Mercutio and Benvolio dance with clarity and precision and the exuberance and unquestioning loyalty of Filipino Valmorbida as Benvolio is the constant that  anchors all the unfolding tragedies.

Massimo Margarita as the taunting Mercutio is outstanding- his duel and death are the turning point in this production for me. He is wonderful as he defends friendship, family, clan and country and from this point the ballet truly delivers to the greatness of its legacy.

The tragedy of the young lovers is the story we came to see and they do not disappoint. I found Madeleine Graham’s Juliet rather saccharine in the first act and her friends irritating with  their teenage giggles  but Graham develops a believable tragedy and ultimately spins herself into this love that was to consume her utterly.  The pas de deux are full of choreographic lifts and flights of spirit matched with seemingly effortless throws and catches – truly epitomising the roller coaster of emotions that goes with infatuation. Technically very secure, these lovers deliver Ventriglia’s choreographic requests all the way.

Joseph Skelton as Romeo is the excitement of the night for me- he dances,acts, loves, loses and lives the journey. Here is a star totally onstage surrounded by a cast that adore (Montagues and one Capulet)  or detest him (Capulets all) .In a role that dancers dream about dancing, Skelton has the mastery of classical line, truly romantic port de bras, Renaissance sensibilities, elevation as he makes his dance ‘be’ the character in this universally recognised story. He is the quintessential Romeo and his is the timeless tragedy.

The staged ending pulls us back to the realities of anger, dissension and division. Love does not always conquer all!

Bravo to all  – I hate to think what the company budgets are like but every so often in life , utter extravagance and indulgence are needed -cancel your massage – go to the ballet- this is it!


Editor September 11th, 2017

Here is the link to Deirdre Tarrant’s chat about the RNZB’s Romeo & Juliet with Jesse Mulligan on RNZ, Thursday 7 October 2017. 

Geni August 24th, 2017

This is a bit late but I really had to think this over. I saw the Sunday, August 20 performance. I was seated in the rafters and the ballet did not perform for us. The big theatre sets and colourful costumes were beautiful and I could appreciate the creativity from the Grand Circle of the theatre. The pantomime and the fencing didn't come across as strong and the music of the orchestra sounded a bit muffled. The clomping sound of toe shoes and heels across the wooden floor was very distracting. Romeo and his men had the lightest of steps and the grandest movements. Romeo throwing an unconscious Juliet was my wow moment. The production was beautiful. If I had a seat in the front rows, I would have been completely enveloped. Not having a prime seat, it was as if I was viewing the ballet from the screen of my mobile phone. Choreographers and dancers should think of us loyal patrons who aren't able to sit front and center. 

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