1 December 2021
ROMEO & JULIET (Polunin Ink) Ballet Review

Rescheduled from last year because of the pandemic-related closures, this show has been sold out for a nice long time.  My seat was one row forward from the last row in the tallest/fartherest tier in the Royal Albert Hall (so much so it felt like I could almost touch the sound mushrooms on the ceiling), and yet I paid for it more than I remember paying for any ballet or theatre performance in the last 5 years.  This was better be worth my time and money.

Other than a realisation that I might need better binoculars if I want to see dancers’ faces up close from seats that far up, the show didn’t disappoint in the slightest.  I have never seen either Polunin or Cojocaru dance in person (so wasn’t sure how different it would be to watching them in videos), but they both instantly infused the gigantic space with their charm and presence in a way that doesn’t really come across digitally.

Firstly, I loved the clarity of this production.  Even if you didn’t know the finer points of who did what when in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, you would still be able to follow the story pretty easily.  Moreover, if you did know the finer points of the story or other stagings of this ballet, the slight tweaks made to the narrative by Johan Kobborg, who choreographed this version, seemed natural and let the story just flow (as opposed to eliciting a “wait, that’s not right” response).

Secondly, broadly outfitting the Montagues in white and the Capulets in black gives a clear delineation to the two families, which makes it really easy to work out who is who, especially when the former sneak into the party the latter are having.  It felt like every effort was made (and successfully achieved) to ensure that the ballet is accessible to pretty much anyone.

Two more notes on the costumes.  If I were to be super picky, I didn’t like Polunin’s jacket, as it swung away from his body and broke up the gracefulness of Polunin’s movement.  On the plus side, I thought it was fantastic that his body tattoos were completely hidden from the view.  Nothing against tattoos, but, in a classical piece like this, I think they would’ve been a major distraction.  This made me think of the piece Polunin did in Japan a while back dancing to Moonlight Sonata in which he wore a beige piece covered in kana characters that made him look like he was covered in writing.

On to Romeo and Juliet…  Sergei Polunin is formidable.  He doesn’t overshadow the ensemble in group scenes, but he is certainly the star of the show (except perhaps for the duel scene, but more on that later).  When I watch someone like Edward Watson dance, I want to think about his interpretation of the character.  With Polunin, I just want to sit back and feast my eyes on the beautifully executed moves that look completely effortless.  Alina Cojocaru looks tiny and fragile next to Polunin.  She is incredibly graceful and expressive.  She doesn’t command the stage the way he does, but that’s probably to her advantage here. 

All the performers dance with assorted ballet companies all over the world, but there was a lot of cohesion in group scenes.  The duel between Mercutio (danced by Daichi Ikarashi) and Tybalt (danced by Nicholas Gaifunin) nearly stole the show.  Both men were absolutely brilliant throughout the whole show, but Gaifunin especially brought a lot of expressive drama to the show.

Although both Polunin and Cojocaru spend considerable time on stage and their respective moves seem to have been tailored to highlight their abilities, I walked away thinking I wanted to see more.  The production was short to begin with (about 90 minutes straight through), so between that and group scenes and bits of artistic movement (i.e., moving about dramatically rather than executing ballet footwork), it didn’t feel like I got enough of the two of them…

Cheapskate enjoyment value: £10.

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