Electric! Ballett Zürich in Romeo and Juliet

Opera House, Zürich
June 5, 2016

Maggie Foyer

A Sunday matinee, mid-season Romeo and Juliet and I expected a good performance from Ballett Zürich but as guest conductor, Pavel Baleff, drew full force fortissimo from the brass on the crashing opening chords, my expectations grew. By the time we reached the candlelit tomb as Juliet awakens to see her Romeo gasping his last, my emotions in shreds and misty-eyed, I realise I had seen one of those special performances that stay with you for a long time.

The electricity between Giulia Tonelli’s Juliet and her Romeo, William Moore, was palpable. In the Capulet house, fuelled by sex and power, Tonelli’s Juliet, is a breath of fresh air. So much more than a sweet young thing, she is feisty, smart and 100% human. Fighting family and convention, she builds a character so real you almost forget she’s wearing pointe shoes. Moore is a natural born Romeo, first a young man itching for a fight then utterly transformed on meeting Juliet. Not only does he dance like a dream but with his tousled hair and boyish charm, Romeos don’t come much better.

The ballroom scene is a vibrant mix of dance and drama, as Romeo’s friends try with limited success to separate him from Juliet, leaving the resourceful Mercutio, Andrei Cozlac to offer distraction. It is in the balcony pas de deux that their love blossoms in a heady mix of desire tempered by teasing playfulness.

William Moore as Romeo, here with Katjia Wünsche as JulietPhoto Judith Schlosser
William Moore as Romeo, here with Katjia Wünsche as Juliet
Photo Judith Schlosser

So much has changed by the time they meet clandestinely in the bedchamber. Desperately in love and with little hope for the future, the duet moves through many shades of meaning and their final meeting in the tomb brings an emotional surge that cuts to the quick.

Christian Spuck moves the drama forward at a terrific pace and the first break only comes after the death of Tybalt. This makes good dramatic sense as a dangerous and sullen Tybalt, Denis Vieira, arrives seeking revenge for his humiliation at the very recent ball. Spuck trims much of the customary dances for friends and harlots and moves Father Lorenzo and the nurse, the only two adults the young lovers trust, to more central positions.

Galina Mihaylova, as the nurse brings a touch of light relief; sprightlier, younger and more astute than most she has a legitimate dance role but it is Lorenzo, the wise and sympathetic Filipe Portugal, black suited and wearing dark glasses, who chalks out the dividing line between the families, prostrates himself in a plea for peace and watches the tragedy progress with the silent presence of a Greek chorus.

Giulia Tonelli as Juliet and Dominik Slavkovsky as ParisPhoto Gregory Batardon
Giulia Tonelli as Juliet and Dominik Slavkovsky as Paris
Photo Gregory Batardon

Dominik Slavkovsky, as Paris is a distinctly unsavoury reading of the character. He cuts an unprepossessing figure, weedy and wearing glasses, but absolutely sure of his aristocratic entitlements. Left alone with Juliet after she has finally submitted to his proposal, his wandering hands make your flesh crawl.

Emma Ryott’s rich sculptural costumes are predominantly black, the silks shot through with flashes of colour making Juliet’s red gown glow like a warning light. The powerful opening to the Capulets ball has shades of a military parade as rapiers flash in unison. The women respond as elaborate gowns reveal bare legs and the atmosphere of sensual desire culminates as Tybalt relishes a kiss from Lady Capulet.

The setting is simple and versatile, a grey space with a circular gallery. An enormous chandelier sparkles in the ballroom; lowered to the floor it glowing warmly in the bedroom scene but dims its light as the lovers separate to be replaced by banks of candles in the tomb. Under hard white lights the grey walls become a prison when Juliet’s parents castigate their errand daughter then decorated by garlands of lights it transforms to a vibrant market square. Spuck achieves a fine balance in dance, characters and drama. I was pleased to have another chance to see it.