MacMillan’s Romeo & Juliet – Showcases the Queensland Ballet

The Queensland Ballet has a legacy of creative and gifted artists as part of its history, which they seek to build upon.

In 2014 as integral to their season, they will present what is arguably considered the world’s best ballet interpretation of Shakespeare’s play of Romeo and Juliet in association with Birmingham Royal Ballet.

The tragic tale in dance by Kenneth MacMillan (1929-1992) was a landmark production of its day, by one of the foremost choreographers in the history of Ballet.

MacMillan created some of the most outstanding dance works of the second half of the 21st century. He created his elegant and very stylish version in 1964 under the direction of Frederick Ashton for The Royal Ballet.

At the time The Royal Ballet wanted to add a three act ballet to its repertoire based on the famous play, to honour Shakespeare’s 400th birthday. MacMillan entirely broke with the ballet conventions of the time by having the dancing evolve from naturalistic action, instead of the grand posturing and picturesque poses in the spotlight to garner applause at the end of set-pieces that had gone before. He wanted his ballet to flow; to show his lovers as vulnerable young people at the mercy of a powerful patriarchal society that was totally dominant.

Romeo and Juliet was first performed with legendary duo Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993) and Margot Fonteyn (1919-1991) controversially dancing the title roles.

Their star power guaranteed the premiere performance would be packed and it was, and to top it off Nureyev, recovering from an injury, danced with a bandaged leg! “Even with one leg, Mr. Rudolf Nureyev dances better than others with two legs!” wrote the enthusiastic critic at the “Times”.

Fonteyn as Juliet and Nuryev as Romeo both displayed all the passionate fervour and uncertainty of youth. And when the curtain descended on the lifeless bodies the dual suicide was painful, two young lives needlessly wasted.

Nureyev once said of Fonteyn that they danced together as with “one body, one soul”, and they did.  With stunning music (1935) by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev (1891 – 1953), Fonteyn and Nureyev’s premiere performance at Covent Garden, London in September 1965 received rapturous applause.

The people and the press went wild. The legendary dancers were honoured with some forty-three curtain calls, with almost forty minutes of prolonged applause. The safety curtain had to be brought down finally to persuade the audience to leave the theatre.

The work quickly became a signature work of The Royal Ballet at London’s repertoire.

Now the Queensland Ballet, under the stunning direction of former principal ballet dancer Li Cunxin, will revive this truly memorable masterpiece for a whole new generation of dance enthusiasts.

How wonderful.

The Australian première of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s iconic Romeo & Juliet with the Queensland Ballet will feature international guest stars Spanish born dancers Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta and Royal Ballet principal, the Sydney born Steven McRae.

He won the Young Australian Achiever of the Year in the UK in 2014 and with his colleagues will be performing alongside the Queensland Ballet’s talented dancers.

Also in the cast for selected performances are acclaimed Australian Ballet Principal Artist, Daniel Gaudiello, as Mercutio.

Acclaimed former Australian Ballet Principal, Steven Heathcote will perform the role of Lord Capulet.

He will bring great gravitas to the performance.

Artistic Director and Lead Principal Dancer of English National Ballet, Spanish born Tamara Rojo was trained in Madrid and became principal ballerina at the Royal Ballet in 2002.

Carlos Acosta is a leading principal on the world stage and has danced almost every classical role from Macmillan to Balanchine becoming renowned for his grace and athleticism.

Steven McRae has had what many consider a dream run from his first jazz and tap classes as a child  to tapping at the Sydney Olympics, becoming the Royal Ballet’s youngest Principal dancer and also performing as guest Principal with renowned international ballet companies.

MacMillan distinguished the different principals in his ballet through bodyline; he gives Romeo’s friends Mercutio and Benvolio bravura steps to dance so they can easily be distinguished from others in the street scene.

His aristocrats in the ballroom scene have statuesque, powerful presences.

His Romeo and Juliet emerge from darkness into the light.

She appears vulnerable at first, although as we find out in reality she’s a headstrong girl, full of defiance and wanting to make her own way in the world.

He’s more reticent and ill at ease at first, but then buoyed up by his love for Juliet, Romeo becomes a changed man.

He is swept off his feet by his love for her and their dancing together is achieved in dizzy exultation. When he becomes embroiled in a duel with Tybalt in the market place, it is with reluctance at first.

Then he finds himself fighting for his life when his friend Mercutio is stabbed in the back for stepping in and trying to stop the fight, finally avenging the death of his friend in anger.

So that the performers can give a realistic performance of sword fighting the Queensland Ballet have retained professional Fight Director Gary Harris to train the dancers for the all important fight scene.

MacMillan’s Romeo & Juliet is a magnificent and grand production whose daring choreography resounds with raw emotional truth. It’s just in time too for 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and the fiftieth anniversary of its original creation.

Lady MacMillan, curator of Sir Kenneth’s repertoire since he passed in 1992, will join the company from mid-June for the final rehearsals. Her visit is a homecoming of sorts, as she was born in the small town of Boonah, just an hour’s drive from Brisbane.

A gifted artist who left seeking success overseas as so many did at the time, she met Kenneth MacMillan soon after arriving in London. They were married in 1974.

These days she is closely involved in monitoring the lighting and design elements of revivals and new productions, and works with a highly skilled team of repetiteurs and notators to maintain the accuracy of MacMillan’s choreography.

There is no doubt that I was entirely privileged to see Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn perform this wonderful work, as well as many others during their extraordinary career together. He was a passionate, exuberant, vagabond personality with great charm and passion for beauty whose leaps defied gravity and he changed the perception of male dancers for all time. He crossed the divide between classical ballet and modern dance by performing both.

She had extraordinary musicality, technical perfection, and precisely conceived and executed characterization, which ensured that they were poetry in motion when they were dancing together. They were incredible really, a unique partnership in the history of art.

The Queensland Ballet’s production of Shakespeare’s tragic tale of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet will be sure to be told through breathtaking, glorious dance in Kenneth MacMillan’s iconic production. A not-to-be missed event.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014

The Queensland Ballet

Choreographer Sir Kenneth MacMillan
Composer Sergei Prokofiev

Queensland Symphony Orchestra
Conductor Andrew Mogrelia

Designer Paul Andrews
Lighting Designer John B Read

Birmingham Royal Ballet Head of Scenic Presentation Doug Nicholson
Costume Supervisor Michael Brown

This production is produced in association with Birmingham Royal Ballet.

This initiative is supported by Arts Queensland through the Super Star Fund, a Queensland Government program that delivers super star performances exclusive to the state.

Dates & Times
Friday 27 June, 7.30pm, featuring Tamara Rojo (Opening Night Gala)
Saturday 28 June, 6.30pm, featuring Tamara Rojo
Tuesday 1 July, 6.30pm
Wednesday 2 July, 7.30pm, featuring Steven McRae
Thursday 3 July, 7.30pm, featuring Carlos Acosta
Friday 4 July, 7.30pm, featuring Steven McRae
Saturday 5 July, 1.30pm (Audio-described)
Saturday 5 July, 7.30pm, featuring Carlos Acosta


Photo Credit: Romeo & Juliet – Bill Cooper

Watch the Video

Watch Nureyev and Fonteyn dance the Balcony Scene



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