16 November 2008

Romeo and Juliet at the Barbican

My plan to take advantage of the many cultural delights that London has to offer is coming on rather well and reached a high point recently with a visit to the Barbican Centre to see the ballet Romeo and Juliet.

The Barbican is one of London's architectural marvels, combining high-density housing, a school and the arts centre with car-free walkways, interesting open spaces that feature a lot of water and quiet places to sit and enjoy the plants.

The Barbican is a joy to walk through and there is nowhere else in London quite like it.

The proposal for the Barbican was first put in 1955 and it finally opened in 1982. This means that it has all the modern facilities that you would expect from an arts centre.

It has a main theatre, other smaller theatres that are normally used for films, a gallery, lots of friendly communal spaces and a number of bars and restaurants.

And, unlike the older theatres that predominate in London, it is designed for today's people so the seats have plenty of leg room and you can easily see over the heads of the people in the row in front of you.

I had seen the ballet Romeo and Juliet before, something like twenty years ago, but I was attracted to see it again because this version was by choreographer Mark Morris.

I first came across Mark Morris' work on the South Bank Show and enjoyed his angular approach to dance that makes as much use of the shapes that the dancers make as it does of their movement.

I next came across Mark Morris when he did the choreography for the dance scene at the end of Mozart's Idomeneo for a production that I saw at Glyndebourne in 2003. The dancing there delighted me greatly.

Incidentally, that performance was rather very special as it was produced by l'enfant terrible of opera, Peter Sellars, and the orchestra was conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.

This new production of Romeo and Juliet featured the original Prokofiev score and his original happy ending. But the story is just a frame to hang the music and dance on to and it plays a minor role in this production.

The simple staging allowed the action to flow from grand hall, to bedroom, to town square, to balcony to priory, etc. without intruding on the dancing.

While there are clearly two main roles played by the two main dancers, what stood out for me was the intricate ensemble dancing which made big shapes, mostly squares, and had action all over the stage.

I particularly enjoyed the wild aerial arm movements made by the crowd as they followed the prince through Verona.

The touching and believable relationship between Romeo and Juliet contrasted wonderfully with the ensemble dancing and gave us scenes of relative calm (fewer dancers and less violent movement) but higher passion.

The various components of the evening came together majestically to make this one of the most delightful shows that I have ever seen. It was just fantastic.

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