The Sydney Morning Herald Review
Romeo and Juliet review: Stanton Welch and Houston Ballet’s refreshingly amorous take on classic
Houston Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy dripping with drama, detailed designs and terrific dancing. Set in fair Verona, with glorious Italianate sets and costumes by Roberta Guidi di Bagno plus Prokofiev’s pounding score, the production has classical style alongside a subtly modern sensibility.
Choreographer Stanton Welch keeps his storyline quite close to Shakespeare’s original and maintains a fairly traditional movement palette. Yet having the star crossed lovers passionately kiss on stage and occasionally express their love through embraces rather than arabesques is a refreshing change.
Welch’s realism extends to exciting street brawls and sword fights, enhanced by the uniformly strong acting skills of the company. As in Shakespeare, the action is peppered with bawdy jokes and drunken pranks – even Romeo makes us laugh when scratching his behind in an unguarded moment, half asleep in Juliet’s bed.
But the realistic style starts to look more like silent film than ballet when at different points Lady Capulet and Juliet issue grief-stricken, silent screams.
And yet, perhaps that is preferable to the awkward sections of mime that remain, particularly when Friar Lawrence gives Juliet the sleeping potion and laboriously acts out its effects.
Minor faults aside, the ballet is very watchable.
Welch’s choreography is expressive without being overly complex. Romeo and Juliet effortlessly swoop and swirl through their pas de deux, at first ecstatic with the excitement of new love, then playful, barely able to stop touching each other. Embodying both awkward teen moments and graceful, spiralling lifts, principal artists Connor Walsh and Karina Gonzalez are impressive in the title roles.
The crowd scenes, including the Capulet’s ball and the Carnival overflow with rich colour and eye-catching movement, reminiscent of the syncopated lines of dancers Welch employed to great effect in Divergence.
The women’s long skirts flow like water, while the patterns in the men’s tunics are striking.
This performance is almost a homecoming for Welch. Son of Australian ballet legends Garth Welch and Marilyn Jones, he has been the artistic director of the Houston Ballet for the last thirteen years. This is the first time the company has performed in Australia, and on opening night Welch and his company were very warmly received.
Houston Ballet look great. They are strong technicians who have been well rehearsed and directed, highlighting Welch’s skill in seamlessly combining dance with drama.
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