Ashton’s Romeo and Juliet, Peter Schaufuss Ballet, London Coliseum, July 2011

Frederick Ashton choreographed Romeo and Juliet for the Royal Danish Ballet in 1955, and it was on a smaller scale than the 1965 Kenneth MacMillan version familiar to Covent Garden audiences. Schaufuss’s mother and father danced Juliet and Mercutio in the original, so Peter Schaufuss is very much involved in this work, and he worked with Ashton on a new production for the English National Ballet in 1985 when he was artistic director. At that time they included ensemble pieces that enlarged the ballet, but in this production Schaufuss claims to have gone back to the original, including original costume designs by Peter Rice, which are wonderful.

Vasiliev and Osipova, photo by Charlotte MacMillan

He has also pared it down to fairly minimal sets by Luciano Melini, showing a large foreground with steps at the rear to a slightly higher level. This has the effect that the front curtain can remain open during scene changes, which are aided by clever alterations in the lighting and changing backdrops. Despite the London Coliseum’s large stage this production has a small cast, enlarged for the Gala on Tuesday, by including Lynn Seymour and David Wall as the Montague parents and Wayne Sleep as Peter the Page — this is what most of the press will review.

Vasiliev and Osipova in rehearsal, photo Tristram Kenton

However, the main couple, Ivan Vasiliev and Natalia Osipova, dance all week, and they’re outstanding. She shows huge emotion in the second part as she rejects Paris, flying around the stage in agony before going to see Friar Laurence, very calmly played by Peter Schaufuss himself. Vasiliev is equally terrific, dancing with perfection. His characterisation of the role shows real feeling, and his sword fight with Tybalt was superbly done. In fact the sword fights, to Ashton’s original choreography, are wonderful. Choreographically this has some glorious moments, and Vasiliev was well supported by Alban Lendorf as Mercutio who danced with great vigour and panache, and Peter Schaufuss’s daughter Tara as Mercutio’s girlfriend. Stephen Jefferies gave an immensely strong and cool portrayal of Lord Capulet, with Zoe Ashe-Browne as his wife.

If you’re looking for the balcony scene and those lovely bustling scenes in the square you’ll be disappointed, but this is a must-see for two reasons. One is that Ashton’s Romeo and Juliet is seldom performed in London, but the main reason is that Vasiliev and Osipova are incredible. How they will manage to dance every performance I don’t know, and their first night on Monday was spoiled by technical faults with an unmovable front curtain, adding an extra half-hour or more to the interval, while audience and orchestra remained patiently seated. But it was worth waiting because the English National Ballet Orchestra played Prokofiev’s music superbly under the direction of Graham Bond, so if you can get tickets, do go.

Performances continue every day with Vasiliev and Osipova as Romeo and Juliet — for details click here.

4 Responses to “Ashton’s Romeo and Juliet, Peter Schaufuss Ballet, London Coliseum, July 2011”

  1. geraldine hillier says:

    I must have been at a different performance but I couldn’t see any value in the performances of the leading dancers. They had no concept of Ashton style and instead danced steps, that is not an interpretation. Equally, none of the Danish dancers had any understanding of epaulement. Furthermore this was not back to the ‘original’ see what David Vaughan has to say about than and it seemed that Schafuss had inserted bits of his own choreography too. This was both out of style and unmusical.
    The guests did not add anything to the performance and Lynn Seymour never appeared, unless her entrance was so brief I missed her. This was a travesty of Ashton’s work.

    • markronan says:

      Thank you so much for your comment, Geraldine. Frankly if this was Ashton’s original, then I think it’s best not revived. I’m told the revival in 1985 was a disappointing experience, but it belongs to Schaufuss and he’s obviously very attached to it.
      As to the dancing, I was willing to cut them a lot of slack because I was there on the Monday night, which was said to be a preview, and they had had a dress rehearsal (same cast) that afternoon. But I was disappointed in the whole experience, and so were other people I know who were there. And what did you think of Juliet’s short hair? These were period costumes, and she wouldn’t have had short hair.

  2. Chris says:

    I went to the matinee on Thursday. Perhaps the dancers were more into the swing of it and well rested but it was absolutely stunning. I saw the ENB version earlier this year with Nureyev’s over-vulgar, overcrowded choreography and MacMillan’s stilted choreography at the O2. It was such a refreshing joy to get rid of the clutter of crowd scenes and concentrate on the wonderful dancing. I realise I’m in a minority but I really did feel this was a matter of ‘less is more’.

  3. Roger Ackroyd says:

    Well, I got to see this just after Xmas at the Brighton Dome and came away feeling distinctly cheated. We had different dancers so I cannot compare the quality – or otherwise – of the dancing against the Coliseum performances. The set was drab with changing back projections of Veronese roofs or hallways in front of a block of steps which led down to a small dance square. Given that the Dome stage is not the biggest in the world I would have expected a pretty good use of what there was but no, everything was cramped into a small space.
    Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the production was the paucity of the orchestra which failed to engender any real tension in the music. The one percussionist did his best to knock six bells out of his one side drum and triangle but other players burped, stumbled and fluffed through the notes as if auditioning for the renowned Portsmouth Sinfonia. Perhaps they were put off their stroke by the massed band of coughers that were competing for attention. At one point I counted a racking cough bellowing out every 5 seconds – and by that you can tell how inattentive I had become to the action on the stage.
    Very disappointing.

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