Review: CU Ballet Club Presents Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet

Leyla Gumusdis 26 February 2016

The annual showcase of the Cambridge University Ballet Club is a beautiful and engaging performance, managing to incorporate abilities of all levels into one coherent whole. 

The struggle of putting together a full classical ballet using every class from beginner to advanced must have been great, but does not show too much in the actual performance. Yes, there are moments when you can tell some of the dancers on stage are new to ballet or perhaps out of practice, but these moments are few and unavoidable. The number of dancers, many of them soloists, who are technically very skilled makes up for these small slips in the ensemble pieces. 

The committee also do their best to make up for the lack of male dancers, changing the gender of many of the principal roles (including Romeo himself). This presents challenges for the choreography as the original is built so heavily on feats of male athleticism, mainly from Romeo (Molly Frederikse) and Tybalt (Fernanda Ostrovski), but both ballerinas do very well to make up for this shortfall. The performances of Romeo’s band of friends, especially Mercutio (Sierra Humbert) and Benvolio (Daphne Chia), stand out: they manage to convey the adequate sense of male bravado and camaraderie, performing tumbling tricks and sword fighting across the stage in a number of climactic fight scenes.

In terms of comic relief, the antics of Juliet’s friends and her nurse (Kathryn Fisher) are wonderfully acted and danced. Fisher in particular gives an extremely compelling and hilarious performance, in a role that is not easy – it is difficult to dance well and keep control while pretending to dance poorly! 

Juliet herself is extremely well-acted – Isobel Smith is a beautiful and technically very skilled dancer, and she perfectly portrays Juliet’s range of emotions, young age and vulnerability. When she is on stage it is difficult to look elsewhere; so compelling is her performance. Often waif-like, Smith is able to depict Juliet’s double feelings of terror and excitement as she is courted by two suitors. The balcony pas de deux is especially moving, danced by Smith and Frederikse. Frederikse does very well with a difficult role, often making you forget that the principal was meant to be danced by a man. She and Smith have a very tender chemistry on stage, capturing the essence of the two young lovers.

The set is minimal, but it is somewhat made up for in the vibrancy of the costumes in deep shades of red, blue and purple. Three ensemble performances must be commended: the dancers at the Capulet ball, the girls laying lilies on Juliet’s bed, and Juliet’s mourners. Throughout the ballet there is almost always a huge gaggle of dancers on stage, depicting the business of town life in Verona and making the quieter moments within the homes and between our lovers stand out. The lighting reflects the intimacy of the latter, culminating in a beautiful scene when Juliet has taken the poison, half in shadow and half in light.

This is an enchanting performance of a wonderful ballet, let down only occasionally by small technical faults made by the ensemble and by a set that is slightly too minimalistic. However the overall effect is one of extraordinary accomplishment from the Ballet Club and they are to be commended for this performance.