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A review of the Australian Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet in Adelaide

28 May 2012 13,055 views 2 Comments

Review by Angela McDonald Booth of the performance

at 6.30pm on Friday 25th May 2012, at the Adelaide Festival Centre

Romeo and Juliet in AdelaidePerhaps as a comment on the evasive and unreliable nature of love in this life, Graeme Murphy plays with the slippery nature of surfaces as a recurring choreographic device throughout his telling of the classic Romeo and Juliet with the Australian Ballet. Whether it was gliding footwork, ballet slippers shunting and slipping backward on the glassy stage, or props and stage dressings being slid and manipulated by dancers as part of the playful prose, this creative vehicle was ingeniously utilised time and time again. It reminded the audience of the tenous grip we have on this mortal world.

Murphy tackled this timeless tale of passion and conflict with the creativity and sensitivity expected of him, preserving the sentiments of romance and tragedy while exploring new ways to present and stage many scenes. For the most part, the notion of 14th century Verona is set aside as each scene nods to an era also troubled over time by the common themes of love, war and dissent. Collaborating with set designer Gerard Manion, Murphy is able to present the story using a variety of visual motifs that one would not expect. Look out for the charming use of bicycles harking back to war-torn Europe, and the sub-continental market place celebrated in a flame of colour as a back drop to the fight scenes and the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt.

Not all the design elements worked. An Eastern inspired setting for the Holy Man who marries the lovers in secret, was perhaps more minimalist Monkey Magic meets Macca Pacca than the Zen Temple that was intended. Six robed men in bald cap grated on me before long with stereotypical gestures and movements that grew more contrived with each appearance than convey any real sense of peace or wisdom.

Highlights included the Ball scene, with costumes by designer Akira Isogawa in a dusky winter palette of greens and purples mirroring the choreography in themes that were both spiked and flowing. Here Amy Harris, as Lady Capulet, carves out her place as a fearsome character with strong technique and sharp, flawless lines. Similarly in this scene, Juliet, played by the divine and perfectly cast Madeline Eastoe showcases her light, delicate footwork, fluid arms and torso and superb elevation.

Many comical moments and short, connecting scenes are cleverly woven into the narrative, though I often found the masculine interactions to be overdone. The bawdry innudendo and sexual puns could be seen however, as a true homage to the Shakespearian style and perhaps therefore an authentic touch. Daniel Gaudeiello and Jacob Sofer were entertaining as the animated and brash Mercutio and Benvolio. It was a true delight to experience this often heartwrenching tale peppered with laughter – keep an eye out for the Hari Krishas. Oh, yes.

The famous balcony scene, even more than my favoured bedroom pas de deux was transfixing. An excellent example of Murphy’s contemporary influence on the classical technique, this soft, often playful solo by Kevin Jackson as Romeo tells of the depth his love, as he sinks into, as much as springs from the floor. Then, at last the duo are together and begins the most sensous and delightful nuzzling, and intertwining of limbs and body until they dance an abandoned celebration of their love as the moon rises behind them. In a touching moment, and in an effect that is similarly reproduced throughout by Projection Designer Jason Lam, the moon finally dissolves into a fizzy riot of stars. Lighting design by Damien Cooper is equally well realised as he uses both subtlety and eye catching boldness to draw the audience’s attention.

The bedroom pas de deux itself was unique in that it was actually a trio. With Death, played by Adam Bull, realised as a tangible character who makes appearances in other scenes, including that of the death of Mercutio, he danced in place of Romeo as a reflection of Juliet’s perception of the consequences to her forbidden affair. In her grief over her cousin’s death and the impending exile of her lover, she dances in turn with Death and Romeo in a connected and tormented trio of despair until she can bear no longer and drinks from the vial of poison that will mimic her death.

In place of Juliet’s crypt, our lovers’ final resting place is a harsh and unsettling place of windswept sand dunes; Juliet’s sarcophagus a bed of skulls exposed to the desert elements. I couldn’t help but feel put out that my final memory of this wonderful adaptation forced me to view the characters, puppet-like against a two-dimensional, cartoon-y visage. So very like Murphy to challenge the setting however, and the scene was still well excecuted and satisfying.

This ballet, bound only by Prokofiev’s stirring score and Shakespeare’s own narrative, has limitless possiblities and potential for countless adaptations. Murphy has come together with a team of creative artists including a company of dancers who have shown a willingness to play, trusting in the knowledge that a great artist and choreographer will know which parts of the legend, which part of this great story of love and loss can slip and slide, and which must be tethered close to a sentimental heart.

The Adelaide season of Romeo and Juliet at the Adelaide Festival Centre begins Friday May 25 for six nights and is part of the Australian Ballet’s 50th anniversary season. Book at Bass.

You can view a preview of the production on YouTube below, and follow the Australian Ballet Company on Twitter and Facebook.



  • Jay said:

    Ill be seeing this in a few days. R&J has always been about the music to me, but I can’t find any reviews of the actual music itself for GM’s R&J. I’ve listened to over a dozen different recordings and it really is a favorite. I’m guessing the music doesn’t stack up, because reviewers never really mention it for this interpretation of R&J?

  • Robert SA said:

    My wife and myself attended the opening night in Adelaide, she was very excited. We were both a bit let down though, true to Murphy’s reputation the performance felt more like a cheap traveling comedy act. Comedy is great, but not at the expense of great dancing. Australian Ballet has been really letting themselves down with these cheap Graeme Murphy “performances”. He seems to know what a modern audience wants to see, but he doesn’t seem to know how to make it not look cheap with mediocre dancing. My wife is a big fan of all things Prokofiev however, so we couldn’t miss the chance to see (and more importantly, hear) Romeo and Juliet in Adelaide, regardless of who was directing the dance. The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra was fantastic, as usual. Highly recommend seeing this just to hear them play Romeo and Juliet live (even with some of the instrument substitutions and entire section removals.

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