Sir Frederick Ashton’s Romeo And Juliet production was first created for the Royal Danish Ballet in 1955 and since then has played an important part in the lives of Schaufuss family members.
The role of Juliet was created by Peter Schaufuss’ mother and his father also played Mercutio.
The ballet was bequeathed to Peter and this week audiences at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate had the chance to watch his company’s new production of it, with his own son Luke Schaufuss in the title role of Romeo.
The story is that of The Bard’s traditional play. Two young people from warring families fall in love and secretly marry. The story is then complicated during a scene in which Romeo’s friend Mercutio is killed by Juliet’s cousin Tybalt and Romeo retaliates with an attack on Tybalt.
Meanwhile, Juliet tries to escape an arranged marriage by taking a special kind of potion and tragedy follows when Romeo discovers his lover’s apparently lifeless body.
Although some ballet companies may go all out with elaborate backdrops and costumes, the Schaufuss ballet set was spartan to say the least. A flight of stairs rose from the back of an almost completely bare set. The only furniture was a bed which served as the setting of Romeo and Juliet’s passions and their deaths.
I think the sparseness of the backdrop really helped to emphasise the moves and expressions of the dancers on stage, which can only help in a wordless performance of an extremely wordy Shakespeare play.
As expected, the dancing, set to Prokoviev’s famous score (although not performed by a live orchestra) was exceptional.
In the first half of the performance, I wasn’t completely convinced of any real chemistry between Romeo and Juliet. They seemed rather like characters dancing alongside each other rather than with each other, but as the ballet progressed, the choreography really helped to underline their passions. This was done particularly effectively in the scene in which Romeo and Juliet part after spending their wedding night together.
Juliet was played by Ryoko Yagyu, who was deft and light on her feet, apart from one unfortunate fall. She was particularly expressive in the scenes in which she was apart from Romeo and expressing her anguish.
Luke Schaufuss gave an excellent performance as Romeo, executing some fairly difficult sequences, including a sword fight with Tybalt (Jordi Arnau Rubio).
One part of the scene which did not quite ring true for me was the one in which Mercutio (Stefan Wise) is killed by Tybalt. His death ran the risk of appearing a little comedic, in the wrong way. Mercutio is supposed to be a jokey character but I felt there wasn’t opportunity in this ballet to really explain that fact, which would have made the death scene (in which he tries to pretend he is alright in a jovial manner) easier to understand.
Peter Schaufuss Ballet will perform Romeo & Juliet tonight and tomorrow. Performers will then perform Swan Lake from Thursday until Saturday. See www.royalandderngate.co.uk