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Romeo & Juliet by the Australian Ballet

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by Maz Serena Rockers (subscribe)
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I cannot begin to express my frustration about this production of Romeo and Juliet. Graeme Murphy is the choreographer for the Australian Ballet production. In a nutshell, if you want to see Romeo and Juliet in a silent play, rather than a ballet which is what this was advertised as feel free to go. If you're interested in watching a decent ballet production, you should probably give this one a miss. Unfortunately, this "ballet" production was received rather well by the audience, who were fooled by the lavish costumes (well, everyone's except those of Romeo and Juliet) and overbearing and at times inappropriate props. There was a clear overcompensation for something important the dancing itself. Several key aspects were toyed with and changed in a way that would likely cause Shakespeare to turn in his grave. Nevertheless, the music albeit quiet was performed beautifully. I'd have been much angrier had Sergei Prokofiev's blissful perfection been altered. Thankfully music director and chief conductor Nicolette Fraillon performed wonderfully and deserves high praise.

Akira Isogawa designed the often very lavish costumes, which suited the numerous backdrops. I mentioned that Shakespeare would turn in his grave if he had seen this production. This is because Juliet's costume combined with the choreography had a major design flaw, that you could see her underwear more than her face at times. I'm almost certain that this was done on purpose. The problem with this is that there were children in the audience, for whom this would have been an introduction to ballet performances and this will set a precedent for future ballet expectations. It is also highly likely that most adults in the audience already know what the female anatomy consists of and that the appeal of Romeo and Juliet should not be of Juliet's underwear. Objectively speaking, the costumes were pretty if taken out of context. For example, the beautifully crafted sari-style costumes were lush and colourful. I still fail to comprehend the link between Shakespeare's setting of Verona in Italy and the Indian backdrop used after the interval and the dancers wearing those beautiful saris. Don't get me wrong, it was very pretty, along with the Egyptian backdrop and costumes used in the final act, but completely out of place. It concerns me that those watching this ballet for the first time, who perhaps have not read the story or watched critically acclaimed film versions, would think this production was accurate.

There were so many props in this ballet that it really felt like something was being overcompensated for. I felt that it was the dancing and choreography. Most of the time, the performers were walking around on stage. At times, there was even crawling. Juliet was impressive a small proportion of the time when she actually danced. The props themselves were also inappropriate at times; for example when there were bicycles on stage, the lights were switched on when they were wheeled off stage. In fact, the mere presence of the bikes seemed unnecessary. I guess it meant that less dancing could be performed if the audience was distracted enough by the props and backdrops.

Overall, a very disappointing production of Romeo and Juliet I must say. It was evident that there was a lot of expenditure on costuming, props, smoke machines, lighting and performers. It was overboard and indicative of a clear overcompensation for the dancing. I know that those who have seen classical ballet performances will agree with my review of this production, but those who are used to Australian Ballet productions will most likely disagree. I will reiterate however that the music was performed beautifully, just very quietly, which was problematic because ballet is about the dance and its interaction with the music. There is something extraordinary when dancers in relatively plain but relevant costumes can convey a story and emotions behind it purely with their movements and interaction with the orchestral performance. Another positive I will mention was the venue, but it's difficult to go wrong with the Opera House. Pardon me if I sound snobby, but I vow never to watch another of these productions ever again. I can only begin to imagine what will be done to Swan Lake in 2012.
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Why? Beautiful music and pretty colours but definitely not ballet.
When: Various times
Where: 2 Macquarie Street Sydney NSW
Cost: Hideously overpriced at $72 for a senior concession and nearly $100 for an adult, which would be acceptable if the production was adequate
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