Opera House, Hamburg, Germany; July 11, 2014
Some evenings your ticket to the theatre not only assures you a seat but also takes you on a journey to heaven and back and so it was with Alina Cojocaru’s Juliet with the Hamburg Ballet. John Neumeier’s “Romeo and Juliet” set to Prokofiev’s lush score and graced by Jürgen Rose’s designs is one of the most appealing of the classical versions. It tells the story with clarity; following the main themes while introducing details that round out the minor players. The fine playing of the Hamburg Philharmonic under Markus Lehtinen added to the evening’s pleasures.
Neumeier wrote his first Romeo and Juliet in 1971 when still director of Frankfurt Ballet, restaged it in 1974 for his Hamburg Ballet and revised it again in 1981. The choreography is balletic though, particularly in the duets, it is driven by emotional needs to heights of neo-classical creativity. The cohorts of Montagues and Capulets are no longer an anonymous crowd but real individuals. There are vibrant ensemble numbers, dramatic fight scenes and plenty of trios and quartets providing dance for all.
This version is distinctive in its narrative detail. Brother Lorenzo (Sasha Riva) is a more visible figure. In the opening scene he comes across as a wise friend to Romeo which makes the young lovers’ trust in him understandable. The players in the market scenes create a focus to the festivities and following the death of Tybalt they provide the cover for Romeo to escape the city. When Lorenzo offers Juliet the potion, it is the actors who play out the scenario of feigned death and ultimate happiness to explain its effect. In an important short scene, the tragedy of the missed message from Lorenzo to Romeo is presented. When Romeo leaves her bedchamber, but is still central in Juliet’s thoughts, we see him mirroring her yearning gestures as each dances in their personal space but are linked as one emotionally. Introduced in a subtle manner and without slowing the pace, these fragments serve to keep the narrative central.
Neumeier’s production exploits the depths of Cojocaru’s emotional range from gauche and charming girl to tragic heroine. Dancing with her friends in the intimacy of the bathroom she is portrayed as a spirited young woman eager to take on the world. Keen and nervous she rehearses the complicated gestures she is to perform at the ball and then predictably, slips on the stairs at her entrance. The potent mix of passion and vulnerability brings a unique edge to her dancing.
Her Romeo, Edvin Revazov, a love-sick boy with floppy blonde hair – so different from his disturbing Onegin of the previous night – proved himself a fine dancer and a remarkable actor, matching her emotional level although he is rather too tall to balance aesthetically.
Each duet charts another chapter in their short romance and particularly so in the poignant farewell after their brief night of love. The first tentative meeting at the ball blossoms in the garden where Neumeier keeps them apart for longer than is usual, building the suspense to a rapturous close. The funeral of Tybalt opens the third act and sets the tone. The pair have plighted their troth and there is no going back. Neumeier’s choreography in this duet is some of his most inventive and emotional as she wraps herself agonisingly around his body and he is torn between the certain death of staying and an unclear future. The tautness of the final scene is welcome: brief and devastating.
Otto Bubeníček complemented as a superb Mercutio. He expertly balances the conflict in the ballroom scene and again in the fight scenes he is a charismatic figure. Along with the courtesans, I mourned his death. Marcelino Libao as Benvolio made up the trio: all three powerful technicians in buoyant male dance. Ann Drower was a sympathetic Nurse, torn between duty and affection. With love in the foreground, Lord and Lady Capulet, both strong dancing roles are less prominent as is Tybalt who has little in his favour: inebriated as well as aggressive.
This splendid evening was made unforgettable by Cojocaru’s performance. Her technique was immaculate: her balances ecstatic and her line breathtakingly beautiful. She is a regular guest in Hamburg fitting in like one of the family. Neumeier wrote “Liliom” for her in 2011 and in each role she dances, he brings out new facets of her talent. It is worth the trip to Hamburg to see Cojocaru at her finest.