Ashton’s Romeo and Juliet, Peter Schaufuss Ballet, London Coliseum, July 2011Posted on 12 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.
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.
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.