By Montague Gammon III
A lush and accessible production of the Western world’s favorite tragedy of romantic woe, that of Juliet and her Romeo, comes to Hampton Roads in the hands – feet, heads, bodies – of The Birmingham Royal Ballet.
The April performances of Prokofiev’s ballet, originally choreographed in 1965 for Rudolph Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn by Sir Kenneth MacMillan, mark the most recent in series of Virginia Arts Festival visits for the company since their performances of Coppélia here five years ago earned standing ovations.
Jenna Roberts, who soloed in the “Prayer Variation” in that ballet, and who is one of the Juliets in BRB’s three show Chrysler Hall stop, chatted on the phone from England about the ballet and her work with the company.
She first encountered the story of Shakespeare’s famously “star-crossed” pair of young lovers from feuding families in the Franco Zeffirelli film version when she was “quite young…11 or 12 years old. It made a huge impact with me.”
“Later on in high school we studied it in drama . I just loved the story! It’s got everything in it: love, violence, comedy. I was just drawn to the story.”
“The first time you see Juliet,” Roberts says, is “in her nursery, playing with her dolls and her nurse. She’s very much a little girl who has been sheltered.”
“The next time you see her she’s at a party. The party is all very new to her. Then she sees Romeo and everything has stopped and everything around her is completely changed.”
“In the 3 acts you see her grow. She starts out a very innocent young girl and grows into a very strong woman. That’s what makes the ballet really beautiful.”
“She makes these choices, these decisions; she doesn’t take these decisions lightly. I don’t think she is weak or lost at all. She’s a woman in love.”
(Online reviewer Laura Bateman, writing for The Reviewers Hub in 2016, called Roberts’ performance of Juliet “magnificent throughout. Technically excellent and with a magnetic stage presence…a superbly realized and intensely believable performance.”)
Roberts made her stage debut at about the age of “I think…12 or 13” with the Australian Ballet’s Madame Butterfly, a version of Puccini’s famous opera. She first danced Juliet as part of Ballet Hoo!, BRB’s 2006 special outreach program in conjunction with Youth at Risk, a British children’s charity for children it termed “troubled.” A diverse group of young people, many from “bad homes” Roberts said, or otherwise considered disadvantaged, “joined up in performing Romeo and Juliet.”
“Kids could relate to it that had grown up in gangs and bad families – that fought – kids who came from families and places [where there was] a lot of violence in their lives related to the story.”
Ms.Roberts assures Virginia audiences, whatever their backgrounds or dance concert experience, that “Even if you don’t know the story at all you will be able to understand what is going on. Sit back and watch the story unfold. MacMillan [was] a genius. He had an
amazing ability to tell a story through dance.”
(Among MacMillan’s awards was a posthumous Tony for choreographing a 1994 production of Carousel which played on both sides of the Atlantic.)
Publicity photos show a sumptuously designed BRB Romeo and Juliet production, confirming Roberts’ description of its “beautiful sets and costumes” in “beautiful, rich colors.”
Emma Cann, writing for BroadWayWorld.com, called it “a production of significant grandeur…Every scene could have been plucked from the painting of an Old Master, with a rich palette of reds, oranges and greens.”
“Sit back and watch the story unfold,” advises ballerina Roberts. “It’s like watching a beautiful movie.”
“Audiences will be wowed by it!”
WANT TO GO?
Romeo and Juliet
Birmingham Royal Ballet
7:30 p.m., April 20 & 21
2;30 p.m., April 22
Chrysler Hall, Norfolk
Virginia Arts Festival