English National Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet

Erina Takahashi and Isaac Hernández in 'Romeo and Juliet' © Laurent Liotardo

Romeo & Juliet is one of the most famous and popular ballets, with the lead roles coveted by dancers world over for the drama and emotion of the star-crossed lovers.

The casting for the opening night at London’s Royal Festival Hall with lead principals Isaac Hernandez and Erina Takahashi were well matched as Romeo and Juliet, looking every bit the young besotted teenagers.

Rudolf Nureyev’s Romeo & Juliet is full of humour, lewd gestures and showcases the male cast’s wonderful acting and theatrical abilities and presents Juliet as somewhat the rebel.

The opening market place scenes are full of action, the two rival Montague and Capulet gangs comically goad each other with playfulness and physical banter.

The big ballroom scenes are set against a dark and austere stage overflowing with dancers and Nureyev’s mix of contemporary and classical choreography.

Amidst the gala Romeo meets his Juliet, Erina and Isaac perform a joyfully sweet pas de deux, as they immediately and tragically fall in love.

Erina plays Juliet with a youthful innocence, the very essence of a 14 yr old girl, she’s light, elegant with excellent footwork and wonderful height in her jumps. Isaac gives Romeo an ever younger feel, he’s almost overwhelmed and in awe of Juliet. He has a great turnout, clean pirouettes and a quiet confidence in his giant leaps.

From meeting and falling love, the story moves swiftly, Romeo and Juliet are married in secret. The fateful duals with Mercutio (Fernando Bufala) and Tybalt (James Streeter) approach.

Fernando is an entertaining Mercutio, light, full of wit and wonderful technique against James’ strong, dominating and aggressive Tybalt. Mercutio’s death scene is one of many overly comic moments that the audience just loved.

The duals were both hilarious and exciting, but it’s Tybalt’s death that brings raw emotion from Erina as Juliet realises the hand of Romeo is the one on the fatal blade. With desperation and pure heartbreak Erina delivers a broken Juliet, pouring with desperate emotions. She was quite captivating.

On the eve of her wedding, Juliet becomes defiant in the face of her arranged marriage. Erina finds Juliet’s inner strength, challenging Lord and Lady Capulet and rebuffing her betrothed Paris.

The poisonous plan is hatched, the messenger murdered and Romeo never receives the note.

Juliet contemplates the dagger or poison, family honour or love. Erina shines in this famous scene and her final moments are enthralling. Romeo discovers Juliet dead, he takes her poison, she awakes and dies by his dagger.

It’s an emotional end to an emotional performance by Erina and Isaac, applauded by the audience who were clearly moved by English National Ballet’s performance of Shakespeare’s masterpiece.

Romeo & Juliet was performed in celebration of English National Ballet’s President and former Artistic Director, Dame Beryl Grey in honour of her 90th birthday.

Reviewed at Royal Festival Hall, Southbank, London, 1 August.

On tour until November – find out more.