This season is turning out to be a transitional one for BRB. Quite a number of dancers, including some very senior ones, have retired or moved to a guest-artist status. Partly because of this, the performances of Romeo and Juliet at the Birmingham Hippodrome and, especially, on tour in Plymouth and Sunderland have seen many debuts in the leading roles. This has given us some insight into who might become the star dancers in the company over the next few years. However, it would be ungrateful to discuss this without making some reference to those who, over the past few weeks, have been giving their final performances with BRB.
Both David Justin and Krzysztof Nowogrodzki have been forced to retire because of injury. The former gave his last performance at Plymouth as Tybalt and the latter at Sunderland as Mercutio. They were very, very sad occasions. It was absolutely clear that neither of them wanted to retire and nor could anyone have wanted them to. For in R&J as well as in the triple bill at Birmingham, they showed us once more what charisma and personality they each posses. They were the sort of performers that audiences warmed to, very fine artists as well excellent dancers.
Unless she guests with the company, and there is no indication that she will, Sabrina Lenzi gave her last performance with BRB and retired after dancing Juliet at the Birmingham Hippodrome. At her best she was a first rate principal and a true ballerina. Unfortunately, I missed her last show but friends tell me that it was wonderful with everyone pulling out the stops. Her Romeo was Tilt Helimets and both ďwere totally captivating and very movingĒ. I can well believe it was so because they were exactly like that when together in Giselle. What a pity they can never now form a regular partnership.
Helimets must be a strong candidate for promotion to principal. He is tall and strong and a very good partner but, in giving all the limelight to his partner, he can sometimes be self-effacing to a fault. Luckily he seems to have been persuaded that is not a good policy and this season he has been dancing more strongly, putting himself forward more and demonstrating that he does have a good stage personality. When he dances like that, as he did in R&J, he looks every inch a leading man. All of my lady friends think he is exceptionally good-looking, which has to be an advantage.
Letitia Muller has not retired but she has changed her status; she is now a guest artist rather than a full member of the company. For this season at least, that doesnít seem to have changed the number of performances she is giving but what effect it will have in future remains to be seen. Her dancing as Juliet was very much up to the standard we have come to expect of her as the leading lady of the company. This time round I found her especially moving in the third act. Iain Mackay, who has really come into prominence since last October, was her Romeo. He is tall, he can act and he is a good partner. Some, more interested in feet than I am (and hardly anybody is less interested), say his feet flap about a bit and some find him a bit brash. But I much prefer that to the prissy, ever-so-genteel style, which can be the bane of British male dancing. Anyway, the general view, with which I agree, is that his debut as Romeo in Birmingham showed lots of promise and, by the time he got to Plymouth, he was performing the role like an experienced professional. I donít suppose he will become a principal just yet but expect to see him in all the principal roles.
Two dancers who have just been promoted to be principals are Nao Sakuma and ChiCao. The promotions have been well deserved and during the past few years it has been a pleasure to watch as they have developed as dancers and artists and risen through the ranks of the company. This season has been an excellent one for both of them and it was no surprise to find that their joint debuts in the leading roles of R&J was completely satisfying. They were totally convincing as young, star-crossed lovers and they played the final tragic scene beautifully. I always think Nao is wonderful and, as Juliet, she was so sweet and vulnerable but with real emotional depth. He danced the steps very well indeed, as I had expected, but what was more of a surprise was how well he acted the role and seemed totally involved in the drama. Actually he acted and danced just as well as Mercutio. The choreography suits him, of course, but I was very impressed with the way he brought out the various strands in the character of Mercutio, especially in the death scene. I ought to mention that Sakuma and Cao have only danced once as Romeo and Juliet and they are due to dance one more time at Bradford. Why only two performances is a mystery too deep for me to try and unravel.
There is another new principal in Michael Revie, but this time one who has come from outside the company. His having just joined BRB, the Birmingham season and the tour gave us the first chance to judge him. In the Birmingham triple bill, we saw him dance the lead in Sanctum and I thought he was excellent, albeit that he is probably a little too short for the part, which was created on the taller Robert Parker. He danced quite a number of times as Mercutio but there I thought he was pressing too much. His debut as Romeo came in Sunderland and his own dancing and acting were fine. So were those of his Juliet, Carol-Anne Millar. It has been heartening to watch how well she has developed since Bintley picked her out of the corps to create Kate in the Taming of the Shrew sequence in Shakespeare Suite. Now she seems totally at home on stage and in full command of her technique. I liked her characterisation of Juliet; she is really just a young girl herself and that is how her Juliet came across. Although, as I have said, both of them were good individually, I have to report that the partnership did not work well in the pas de deux, which at times came close to disaster.
Iíve left until last the more experienced dancers who, in fact, gave most of the first few performances. The first cast was Monica Zamora and Robert Parker. Because their talents were recognised early, they have been prominent for quite a while and it is easy to forget that they are still quite young. Parker is only 25 and Zamora is not much older so we can expect many more years from them yet. Both have shown us in past seasons, although with different partners, how well the R&J suits them. They demonstrated this again and gave us a well-crafted version, very well danced with all the correct emotion brought forth. I thought the partnership was fine if not quite up to the high standard each has shown with other partners. Some said she was too tall for him and I suppose that is true in absolute terms but matching heights is not something BRBís management seems to give much attention to and we saw much worse in other pairings. And not only in the case of Romeo and Juliet. In many performances Mercutio and Benvolio seemed to be selected by lottery irrespective of whether or not they looked together like Little and Large or how they complemented that eveningís Romeo. And have I missed something significant in the fact that Rosaline was often taller than Romeo?
To go back to Zamora, after her performances in Birmingham she flew to Australia to guest with the Australian Ballet for the rest of this season. She will return in the Autumn. It seems to be a sort of exchange scheme but one rather out of sync; the replacement lady from the Australian Ballet will guest with BRB for part of next season, not this.
In what was something of a tour de force at Birmingham, Parker danced three times as Romeo in less than 72 hours. There were good reasons for it and it didnít seem to bother him much, but I donít think it should be encouraged. His Juliet in the middle one of those three and on tour was Rachel Peppin, who to our great delight has just been promoted to principal. They make a fine pair and it is a mystery why they are not cast together more often. Last time BRB did R&J they were excellent together and this time they have deepened their interpretations. I would say that in their three performances they were the most consistently good of all the leading couples and that his dancing at Plymouth was the best we have seen so far from anybody in this run, every step there, clearly delineated with no fudging or slurring or exaggeration.
The other experienced pair was Ambra Vallo and Sergiu Pobereznic. She is a wonderful dance-actress and Juliet is one of her very best roles. She dances it beautifully, acts marvellously and has tears streaming down her face in the third act, which brings a lot of the audience to the same state. In Birmingham and Sunderland, at least, he matched her well in intensity of emotion and beautiful dancing. Actually, in contrast to all the others who play the part as ďone of the ladsĒ, he is the most aristocratic Romeo. This seems to make his dancing with Juliet more elegant and, in their last scheduled performance, the two great pas de deux were superb.
I always think that in R&J it is hard for anyone in the minor roles to shine. But some managed it. Rachel Hester, for one, who played the nurse with warmth and humanity and helped make the episode with the letter one of the highlights. It will surprise no one to hear that Marion Tate was magnificent as Lady Capulet and she really tore up the stage in the histrionics following Tybaltís death. One evening at Plymouth she gave Romeo a look of such hate and venom that it was amazing the poor chap didnít turn to stone. In what seemed to me a piece of unlikely casting, Andrea Tredinnick, recently returned from maternity leave, also played Lady Capulet but it turned out that whoever cast her knew what he was doing and she was excellent. There were several good Tybalts but I felt Lee Fisher was best. He really has the measure of those sort of roles; for example, he was a superb Rothbart earlier in the season.
Some people regard the market-place scenes with the harlots as padding. This time, however, they worked rather well, in large part because the harlots were so good. Silvia Jimenez, who is another having a wonderful season, usually was the lead harlot and she ranks with the best Iíve seen. As assistant harlots, Laetitia Lo Sardo, Angela Paul and Molly Smolen were very good.
Dominic Antonucci, Tiit Helimets and Toby Norman-Wright all managed to make Paris a real character rather than just a cypher, without overdoing it. Antonucci was excellent, also, as Benvolio and so were two of the younger men, Michael Kopinski and Steven Monteith. Kopinski and Yamamoto, who led the Mandolin dance with much virtuosity, seem to have some juicy roles lined up for the rest of the season, which gives us a good indication of management thinking.
To summarise, Iíd say that this run of R&J has been very successful. Audiences were excellent and very appreciative. Usually it was house full or nearly so and, therefore, the company must have made money or, I suppose it would be more accurate to say, they have lost less than they normally do on tour. Iíve seen most of the performances and there were only a couple I was dissatisfied with. The third act can drag a bit with a mediocre Juliet but, this time around, it always held me. Although the company has lost some of its best dancers, which is sad, there clearly are talented younger ones coming through. So I think we can feel quite optimistic about BRBís future.