Rudolf Nureyev – who created the role of Romeo, with Margot Fonteyn as Juliet, in Kenneth MacMillan’s version for The Royal Ballet in 1965 – mounted his own production in 1977 for the London Festival Ballet, reworking the same ballet for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1984; a large-scale, colourful fresco full of passion and noise, set in a turbulent Verona where the sun-drenched squares are permanent open-air theatres, and the dark, narrow side-streets can turn into cut-throat alleys. Nureyev placed particular emphasis on the personalities of Tybalt and Mercutio, ‘champions’ of each of the two rival clans – one sombre and vindictive, the other roguish and a little mad. He attempted to bring to life the argumentative and truculent people of Verona, opting for an atmosphere both sensual and brutal, an era both refined and bawdy, evoking a quattrocento, superb in appearance and cruel in reality. Life and death here take turns on the Wheel of Fortune, with youth fighting to the death in the streets.
“Romeo and Juliet tells the story of a boy who becomes a man. As an adolescent, he chases after all the girls, but he soon tires of the cold beauties he meets, and the platonic love they impose on him. He wants to experience stronger emotions. It is Juliet who decides for him. She is passionate, willing, more mature than he ... I am convinced that Renaissance Verona and Elizabethan London, cultures divided between old superstitions and the desire for a new world, were both highly sexual and violent – similar to our own age.” RUDOLF NUREYEV © Text from the theatre programme of the Paris Opera Ballet