Romeo and Juliet is quite possibly the most famous, or infamous, love story of all time. I guess it really depends upon who you’re talking to. I am a staunch believer that the story is not without purpose; it serves not only as a reminder of the stupidity of teenagers, but of the uniting power of love (gags). Set in the 1930s, the West Australian Ballet’s glorious, and surprisingly joyful, rendition of the international production from Youri Vámos is unlike any other performance you will see of this fateful tale.
The most delightful aspect of this ballet wasn’t the costuming (although adorable), nor the score (wonderfully crafted by Russian and Soviet composer Sergei Prokofiev), but rather the choreography. Having studied ballet, I fear I have a rather skewed view of the art form. Hours of attempting to force my feet into a perfect ‘fifth position’ has drilled into me the notion that ballet is about discipline and rigidity. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Coming from a girl who sorts her bookshelves alphabetically (by author), I have a deep respect for anything that seeks control and perfection. Unfortunately, however, I fear that the majority of the public perceives ballet as somehow neurotic and stuffy. Romeo and Juliet couldn’t be more different. The performance magically manages to combine the professional skill of a classically trained ballet dancer with spirited contemporary. It is a testament to the skills of WA Ballet that they managed to make a story about two hormonal teenagers falling in love and committing joint suicide bring a smile to everyone’s face. From the mind-boggling heights of the jumps that Romeo (Gakuro Matsui) managed to land, to the giggle-inducing, larger-than-life characterisation of Mercutio (André Santos), I was left in awe of the quality and calibre of the dancers.
However, one aspect of the performance didn’t have me doe-eyed with pure content. I believe that there are several key moments in Romeo and Juliet; moments that take it from being a simple musing upon the tragic mistakes of teenagers and elevate it to a masterpiece. The first is when Romeo kills Tybalt. In that fit of rage and pure passion, we as the audience get to see a character that is more than just a lovesick boy. It gives him a darkness, a complexity and, most importantly, leaves Juliet with the troubling reality that she is in love with the man who killed her cousin. However, in this production, Tybalt (Matthew Lehmann) merely falls upon Romeo’s sword as his back is turned. An accident. And the resulting reaction from Juliet (Sarah Hepburn) is woefully absent as she becomes caught up in her oncoming engagement. Similarly, the all-important scene at the end of the play where the families decide to set aside their dispute following the death of their children, is not included. The performance ends with the two star-crossed lovers flung poetically across each other in now pointless death. Maybe I’m a purist, but I felt that the performance was incomplete as the curtains rolled down on those lifeless bodies.
This, however, should not detract from the sheer beauty of this ballet. I still went away from His Majesty’s Theatre with the sense that I had just witnessed something spectacular.
Words by Caitlin Carr
Starting from only $22 per ticket, and performed with priceless elegance and playfulness in one of the State’s most beautiful theatres, this ballet isn’t one to miss. Romeo and Juliet will be running at His Majesty’s Theatre, with the awe inspiring accompaniment of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, until September 24.