The San Francisco Ballet is the world’s oldest ballet company, but it began a new chapter in 1985 when Icelandic legend Helgi Tomasson became its ballet master.
This production of Prokofiev’s masterpiece premiered in 1994, and there are many reasons why it is still touring. The exuberant, at times comical, but always exquisite dancing, which includes remarkable on-stage sword play, takes us from the most beautiful portrayal of innocence to the most devastating depiction of loss and despair.
The perfect backdrop for Tomasson’s choreography, the stage set is a wonder to behold. This is a traditional setting, which keeps the action in Renaissance Verona, and Danish scenographer Jens-Jacob Worsaae has produced a veritable masterwork.
A sumptuous feast for the eyes
The opening scene alone, where, in stages, the members of the Capulets and the Montagues appear and engage in ever-more intense conflict in the busy main square in Verona, is one of the most visually breathtaking theatrical experiences you could hope to encounter.
The stage is abuzz with action; by the time the conflict reaches its climax, there are dancers confronting each other in every corner of the square – and even on an elevated passageway (a Renaissance ‘corridor’) which hangs over the action.
The other scenes brought to life before our eyes include the Capulet’s garden (the balcony scene), where the emphasis swings to simplicity, and the masked ball scene inside the Capulet residence, where once more the emphasis is on exuberant detail: here formal ballroom dances take centre stage, and we are treated to a series of choral emotions produced by the famous music of the Dance of the Knights, while eye-catching, gold-coloured costumes provide a feast for the eyes.
Only through ballet
The young performers playing the parts of the eponymous characters excel in this production.
Juliet is perfectly young, curious, passionate and a little afraid of the adult world; while Romeo’s joy at having met Juliet is contagious.
Is ballet the supreme form when it comes to expressing youthful joy? It is truly rare for ordinary drama to reach such a pitch of emotional intensity.