Set once more in ‘fair Verona,’ our tragedy unfolded in lifts and leaps, and barely rested. Actions and words in Shakespeare’s hands were given equal weight in Romeo and Juliet, and Welch has contributed to the glorious confusion, giving the audience ‘its eye in’ and plenty of swordplay. Just as Shakespeare wanted the audience to look as well as listen, Welch dazzled me with controlled merry-making, creating something of an embellished tapestry fit for a castle wall hanging, and it was best viewed not once, but twice. With so much happening and a large cast of new faces to learn, in addition to reacquainting myself with the tale, fear-of-missing-out was keenly evoked.
Houston Ballet, presented by the Australian Ballet, who are currently on tour in London (with Ratmansky’s Cinderella and Murphy’s Swan Lake) and in regional Victoria (Giselle), appear to share a narrative-driven approach and working ethos, and, of course, Welch, resident choreographer with the Australian Ballet and former leading soloist with the company. For Houston Ballet’s first tour to Australia, a lavish production and a homecoming for Welch, showed itself to be as bright in reality as on paper. Or rather, shone as bright as the bejewelled tunics and long shimmering gowns of Roberta Guidi di Bagno, and the stars who wore them, and made real, a series of stage pictures like Renaissance paintings brought to life.
Both Antonio del Pollaiuolo’s Portrait of a Young Lady (c.1465), with her blood-red brocade worthy of a Capulet, and Pisanello’s Portrait of Leonello d’Este (c.1444) would have been able to slip into scene five’s Ball and see Romeo steal an all-too-brief, fate-sealing kiss from Juliet. From such a rich period, with their universal yet singular focus upon the face, a story telling must-have, Oliver Halkowich’s Benvolio and Derek Dunn’s Balthasar, appeared to have stepped. In possession of an aristocratic chin, Christopher Coomer’s Tybalt, and displaying a sardonic eyebrow raise, Charles-Louis Yoshiyama’s Mercutio. Why, it was as if these profile portraits had spun around and revealed all planes of their faces! Jared Matthews as both (Tuesday’s) Romeo and (Wednesday’s) Mercutio, the effortless epitome of acting over mime.
"There are no days more full in childhood than those days that are not lived at all, the days lost in a book. I remember waking out of one such book beside the sewing-machine beneath the window on the river in the barrack living room to find my sisters all around me. They had unlaced and removed one of my shoes and placed a straw hat on my head. Only when they began to move the wooden chair on which I sat away from the window light did I wake out of the book, to their great merriment.”
This “strange and complete happiness when all sense of time is lost, of looking up from the pages and thinking it is still nine or ten in the morning, to discover it is well past lunchtime” author John McGahern describes mirrors my own “pure, unfathomable joy" when adrift within a ballet performance. For my pleasure’s own sake, it feels, the structure of time is turned on its head. A close solidarity is formed in the theatre and my affection grows with each visit. I have, in the space of a very short time (but, time, what is that?) become a balletomane (though what to do with that clunky ‘t’?). A devotee of ballet, it requires less self-discipline than a dancer, and all of the gratification.