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ROMEO AND JULIET (article first published : 2000-12-14)

“For never was a story of more woe, Than this of Juliet and her Romeo” says the Prince of Verona in the closing scene of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The bereaved fathers of the “pair of star-cross’d lovers” make a solemn pact: Romeo’s father (Lord Montague) to raise a statue to Juliet “in pure gold” so that all Verona shall know her worth and Juliet’s father (Lord Capulet) to do likewise in memory of Romeo.

The opening of Fantastic Flying Fish Dance Company’s superb Romeo and Juliet, a ballet in three acts set to Sergei Prokofiev's memorable score, offers a visual reminder of the statues that would have graced the city of Verona had Shakespeare extended his story a little further.

Director Robert Whitehead, well-known and respected for his work in Shakespearean productions, has stayed true to the Bard’s legendary tale to present a moving and highly dramatic production. Choreographers David Gouldie and Mark Hawkins have kept to classic ballet movements with the occasional contemporary quirk introducing a touch of humour.

Sarah Roberts has designed a set that is effective without being extravagant, making good use of gossamer light drapes, blood red hangings and a stark crypt while allowing for frivolity in Juliet’s bedroom by way of a sequinned bolster and a furry bed cover. Michael Broderick and Brandon Bunyan’s lighting design is clean and efficient.

Fantastic Flying Fish Dance Company has had a long association with Durban fashion designers, particularly Colleen Eitzen and Amanda Laird-Cherry who have handled the attractive and workable costume designs. Donald Jolley’s sure hand can be seen in the fight sequences, particularly the splendid and gripping fight-to-the-death between Romeo and Tybalt.

Highly disciplined and focused as a dancer, it’s always a pleasure to see Ebrahim Medell back in Durban. He played the fun-loving Mercutio and his dying scene was beautifully handled. Tottering around en pointe, petite Cheryl Burger was delightful and pert as Juliet’s nurse and the scenes where the young men tease her mercilessly were very amusing and skilfully executed.

Languid and graceful in a stunning cerise and orange outfit, Angela Lardant was an arrogant Lady Capulet whose relationship with her husband (strongly played by David Gouldie) had a definite chill while her response to her nephew Tybalt suggested a closer liaison. Anatole Babenko (Tybalt) was a fine figure of coiled energy, aggression and feudal hatred.

Thulebona Mzizi was a restrained and courteous Paris; Vusi Thabethe looked impressive in an all-white outfit as the Prince and Nicole McCreedy is a flighty Rosalind, Romeo’s first love. Gerhard Pienaar is a sympathetic Friar Laurence and Norbert Gertse (Benvolio) added to the fun of the boisterous scenes with Romeo and Mercutio. It was also nice to see Peter Taylor, who normally handles FFFDC administration, back on the stage as Lord Montague.

Robin van Wyk, appearing by kind permission of Cape Town City Ballet, presented an excellent Romeo – in the earlier part of the ballet boyish, boisterous and full of pranks but maturing quickly to manhood as sweeping emotions, tragic events and final disaster overtake him.

A strong cast, notwithstanding, it was Mary-Ann de Wet as Juliet who stole the evening. Utterly adorable, enchanting and playful as the young girl, she expertly handled the subsequent conflicting emotions that beset her. These escalate from her early naiivety and the awakening of her sensual and romantic feelings to the utter hopelessness and despair of her situation when she realises that her father is inflexible in his decision to marry her to Paris. In all the years I have watched and admired Mary-Ann’s performances, I believe this is her finest role - all the more impressive as she is playing someone less than half her age.

The cast alternates for certain shows and I would suggest that this is a production dance lovers should see twice. I will be going again as I am most interested to see how Norbert Gertse and Nicole McCreedy handle the title roles. For those unfamiliar with the storyline, there is a well-written and concise synopsis in the programme.

Presented in association with the Playhouse Company, Romeo and Juliet is the FFFDC’s biggest undertaking in its two years of operation. Its success bodes well for the future of this courageous and committed dance company. Sponsored in the main by the National Arts Council, BASA and Production Projects, the ballet runs until December 30 in the Playhouse Drama. Book at TicketWeb or on www.ticketweb.co.za or call 0861 400-500. For credit cards call (031) 369-9444.

Prior to the performance, Sunday Tribune dance critic Tommy Ballantyne announced that the trustees of the former Friends of Dance associated with the now-defunct Napac Dance Company had decided to hand over an amount of R16,000 to FFFDC. Mark Hawkins added that a new dance support group to replace Friends of Dance had been formed. Called DanceFans, it offers membership from R100 a year. More details from FFFDC offices on (031) 209-0142.




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