Feature

David Bintley introduces Romeo and Juliet

Birmingham Royal Ballet's Director discusses the importance of the beloved Shakespeare adaptation, which makes its return to the stage in 2016.

I would say that Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet is the most important full-length ballet of the 20th century. It broke the mould of those Petipa classical ballets in taking a complex narrative and not treating it as a kind of coat hanger for divertissements. Everything within the ballet supports the narrative.

'As a narrative piece of dance making, I would say that this is probably the greatest one ever made.'

David Bintley

The other thing which makes it wonderful, of course, is that the period and the clothes are absolutely made for ballet; what we wear in ballet - loose, floppy upper garments and tights - is more or less what they wore in mediaeval renaissance Italy. And unlike Shakespeare where you have the problem that, if you are going to do the lines with any experience, then that probably means that you are not going to be the right age for the young characters, in ballet of course, the dancers are much closer to the age of the beautiful youthful look of the characters.

The stand-out elements of Kenneth MacMillan’s version of Romeo and Juliet are the pas de deux, particularly in the balcony scene. As a narrative piece of dance making, I would say that this is probably the greatest one ever made. MacMillan was very good at them, sometimes at the expense of the other work, but this one is really tremendous.

I’ve not actually danced in Romeo and Juliet at all - when I was a dancer, we didn’t have the ballet in our repertory. By the time I’d joined the Royal Ballet, where obviously they did have that piece, I wasn’t really right for any of the characters.

I would have liked to have danced Tybalt; I think he is a very interesting character. And it’s not too much hard work, just sword fighting and acting, so I would have enjoyed that.

We’ve had some excellent performances in the principal roles of the past few years, with some particularly fine Juliets. Juliet has got to be the most coveted role in the repertoire. I don’t think I’ve ever met a female dancer who didn’t want to do it. It’s not too difficult, you spend a great deal of the time being lifted up and carried around beautifully, there are hardly any other women on the stage to challenge your visibility and you get to do some pretty extreme acting to that glorious score. No wonder then!