Romeo & Juliet Opening Night

Highlights from Graeme Murphy’s Romeo & Juliet. Production: The Apiary

Last night I attended the opening night of The Australian Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet in Perth. I’m still buzzing from the night, and the performance I saw. As I was sitting down, I turned around and realised that David McAllister (the Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet) was sitting right behind me. But all thoughts of who else was around quickly disappeared when the music began and the curtains lifted. I honestly didn’t feel the time fly by, it felt like it was only five minutes, and I could have stayed for an extra two hours watching the ballet.

I don’t quite know how to eloquently put into words what made this particular performance of Romeo & Juliet so memorable and unique. First, there is Graeme Murphy’s choreography. I feel Murphy injected some irreverence, and an Australian sense of humour, into a classical ballet and into a genre of art that many people (erroneously) regard as inaccessible. The thing is, when Shakespeare was writing his plays, he intended them for performance for the public, not as distanced ‘high art’. His plays contain a mixture of the bawdy and the sublime, and he has a keen awareness of the combined ludicrousness and beauty of human nature. It’s extremely difficult to translate all that, along with his words, into movement and choreography, and the fact that I could sense and feel all sides of Shakespeare in Murphy’s choreography is a testament to his genius. Aren’t we lucky Australia, that we have a choreographer like him?

And oh dear, the costumes by Akira Isogawa and the set design by Gerard Manion! Just stunning. It’s one thing to look at pictures of the costumes and the sets, but quite another to see them on stage, in person, live. It’s like looking at a photo of a beautiful flower: it looks nice, but you can’t really appreciate its true texture, its beauty, its smell, until you get to see it with your own eyes, unmediated by a camera lens.

And although all the dancers were just brilliant last night, I couldn’t take my eyes off Kevin Jackson and Madeleine Eastoe. Especially Madeleine – a small but impressive figure on stage whose technique seems flawless to me and who managed to convey the tenderness and innocence of Juliet, along with her first passion. But I feel guilty for picking ‘favourites’, as everyone was so good.

I guess the thing I liked most about this production was that in its combination of costumes, choreography, dancing execution (and acting), set design and music, it was an interesting amalgamation of Australian dance combined with the legacy of European classical dance. As I said, there’s a humour in this production, and a sense of irreverence that seems typically Australian to me in its tone and style. But there is also a debt to past productions of the ballet. They sat well together last night, like a smooth combination of the old and the new. I can honestly say I liked this version of Romeo & Juliet better than the ones I’ve seen outside of Australia. And as I was sitting there last night in the audience, I felt a real emotion of pride that we are delivering such a high standard of innovative ballet in Australia.

If anyone’s seen it too, please let me know what you think!