writers on dancing


The Sure Thing

"Romeo and Juliet"
Royal Danish Ballet
Det Kongelige Teater
Copenhagen, Denmark
November 2005

by Eva Kistrup
copyright ©2005 by Eva Kistrup

It is now 30 years ago that John Neumeier's "Romeo and Juliet" was danced by Royal Danish Ballet for the first time by a glorious cast led by young budding stars Mette-Ida Kirk and Ib Andersen, supported by Niels Kehlet (Mercurtio), Mette Hønningen, (Lady Capulet), Henning Kronstam (Lord Capulet) and Tommy Frishøj (Tybalt). Jürgen Rose had created a marvellous scenography (even better than his "Onegin") that brought the early renaissance to life. The performances were dedicated to Vera Volkova, the brilliant teacher who had formed most of cast and was a strong influence on John Neumeier, who had attended her classes in 1964 as a late starter. That premiere was significant, and not only because it marked the beginning of an ongoing relationship between Neumeier and Royal Danish Ballet—he has produced or choreographed a half-dozen major works for the company since. It also spelled the end of the Flindt era, and showed how strong the company truly was, not least in dramatic ballet. A big hit on home ground, the ballet has not been embraced as well abroad. Nevertheless, it remains a true favourite with audience and dancers alike and dancing a major part in "Romeo and Juliet" is a key ambition for most dancers. It's fair to say that over the 30-year period, only a handful of dancers have been cast as Romeo or Juliet (the original cast, Mette-Ida Kirk with Ib Andersen or Arne Villumsen, danced the roles for over 15 years) and some of the most significant of the company's dancers have not been given the chance. This new production shows two full casts at the two first performances, and there is rumour of more casts for later performances. 

In all, the ballet has aged well and is still very well suited to the company. Compared to other contemporary productions of "Romeo and Juliet," it is full of great supporting roles and cameos and therefore gives ample opportunity to a lot of dancers. Neumeier has even created a character for each corps member. It is his best work ever, and although there are some Neumeier traits that he has since overused—the band of jesters, the dancer used as a wall etc.—it remains a fresh work by a young choreographer budding with idea and innovation. There has never been another production that can get so much out of the triangle Tybalt, Lady Capulet and Lord Capulet. By how well does The Royal Danish Ballet measure up to the task today?

Well to be completely honest, the best work was done by the old pros: Lis Jeppesen in the briefest cameo as Lady Montaque, a marvel of a pious and stern women; Peter Bo Bendixen as a fiery Tybalt; and Kenneth Greve, the second cast's Tybalt, who can act the part as well as Bendixen and has so much more to offer in the dancing and posing that he almost pushes the balance of the piece.     

The first cast was surprisingly weaker than the second in the overall performance. The trio Mercurtio (Jean Lucien Massot), Romeo (Kristoffer Sakurai) and Benvolio (a splendid Marcin Kupinsky), did neither dance nor act well together and there were several other glitches. But in Tina Højlund as Juliet we got an intense and intelligent version of strong willed Juliet. Højlund reminds one of the brilliant British actress Helen McCrory and here acting abilities is the strongest among the leading casts.  

  Højlund, a veteran soloist who dances more leading roles than most principal dancers in the company, is close in type to the dancer on whom Neumeier first choreographed the role: Marianne Kruse, a Danish dancer with a German career and a small sturdy character dancer, whereas the Danish original Juliet, Mette-Ida-Kirk is a long-limbed adagio dancer with the most beautiful arabesque ever seen in the company. Second cast Susanne Grinder has more of the Kirk type, but is not as strong an actress as Kirk and Højlund.

Unfortunately Højlund was paired with Kristoffer Sakurai, a conventional and rather bleak Romeo, who could not really get himself to show his face to the audience. He was best in the dreamy sequences where he shadows Juliet’s dancing. Here he could use his fine lines and musicality. Although there are many directors listed on this production it was clear that not one of them really had worked on his dramatic presence. Second cast Sebastian Kloborg was a very impressive debut for a young dancer who had never had a solo role before. He did a fine job in the mass scenes and really stood out but lacked the final gear to really embrace himself in the tragic scenes. As the son of company stalwart Eva Kloborg and its artistic director, Frank Andersen, his position is precocious (as we have just seen with another ballet master/father at the NYCB visit), but this Romeo showed that he has the personality and talent to become a real asset to the company, or indeed any other company. 

The important issue remains. This ballet is a perfect fit for Royal Danish Ballet and presents the dancers with the right challenges at all levels. It is also a much needed box office draw. Hopefully the company will have the change to work more with this ballet and more performances will give the new casts opportunities to really get around all the challenges and rise to the highest performance levels that we are accustomed to with this ballet.               

Volume 3, No. 43
November 21, 2005

copyright ©2005 Eva Kistrup



DanceView Times

What's On This Week
Index of Writers

Back Issues
About Us


Mindy Aloff
Dale Brauner
Mary Cargill
Nancy Dalva
Rita Felciano
Marc Haegeman
George Jackson
Eva Kistrup
Gia Kourlas
Alan M. Kriegsman
Sali Ann Kriegsman
Sandi Kurtz
Alexander Meinertz
Gay Morris
Ann Murphy
Paul Parish
John Percival
Tom Phillips
Naima Prevots
Susan Reiter
Lisa Rinehart
Jane Simpson
Alexandra Tomalonis (Editor)
Lisa Traiger
Kathrine Sorley Walker
Leigh Witchel
David Vaughan
last updated on November 14, 2005