REVIEW: R+J: a new interpretation of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet

Prokofiev’s ballet is stunningly performed and incredibly moving.

Ballet Cambridge classical dance classical music Dance performance Prokofiev R+J Romeo and Juliet University of Cambridge

Shakespeare’s famous tale of the star-crossed lovers becomes a fluid, beautiful and invigorating performance for the Cambridge University Ballet Club. The talent of the production’s protagonists was spell-binding, and the story is brilliantly crafted through dance.

Romeo (Molly Frederikse) and Juliet (Isobel Smith) are both outstanding ballerinas, and also excelled in conveying the intense pleasures and pains of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Particularly during their double-suicide, both dancers gave a very moving performance which delighted the audience, their dance infused with energy, expression and emotion.

Isobel Smith as Juliet. (Photo Credit: Tom Attridge)

The other key players also gave stellar performances. Tybalt’s malignant arrogance and passion for violence were perfectly conveyed by Fernanda Ostrovski, the combination of playful and sincere in Benvolio and Mercutio was wonderfully executed by Daphne Chia and Sierra Humbert, and Juliet’s maid – Kathryn Fisher – provided magnificent comic relief. Paris, too, inspired the reaction owed to his sleazy character with aplomb, and the other members of the Montague and Capulet households each contributed to the gorgeous display of dance.

The ballet was delightful to watch and easy to follow, not only because it is such a well-known story but on account of its well-crafted direction. A rose given to Juliet by Paris doubles up as a figure of contemplation when she questions what’s in a name, and chaotic sword-fights are contrasted with the intimacy of duet scenes between Romeo and Juliet. Minimalistic props and staging did not mean that the stage ever felt empty: an enormous cast of chorus dancers with a range of abilities supplied the backdrop where it was needed.

‘Tybalt’s malignant arrogance and passion for violence were perfectly conveyed by Fernanda Ostrovski.’ (Photo Credit: Ge Huang)

The only criticism I would make of the staging was that the music was simply too loud. Prokofiev’s musical score incorporates drama and excitement, but also tenderness and sorrow towards the end of the story, which sounded tinny and shrill when blaring out of the speakers. It’s an easily rectified problem, however, and one that did not detract from the onstage story.

Romeo and Juliet is a much-loved story and translates fluidly to ballet. An art-form not so frequently experienced as acting, but one that should certainly not be overlooked, as the talent of the cast was mesmerising. This adaptation also demonstrates the different ways in which can dance can be used to convey a story: it can be graceful, but also playful, humorous, mournful and touching. Romeo’s exile at the end of the second movement, and Juliet’s agonised decision to take the sleeping draught she is given by the priest stand out as two such moments in which powerful emotion is excellently conveyed.

‘Romeo and Juliet is a much-loved story and translates fluidly to ballet.’ (Photo Credit: Ge Huang)

The second and final performance of Romeo and Juliet is tonight at the West Road Concert Hall: don’t miss it.

5/5 stars