The Royal New Zealand Ballet salutes outgoing artistic director Francesco Ventriglia with an altogether splendid and triumphant 3 hour production of his newly choreographed Romeo and Juliet.

Set to a beautifully cinematic score by Sergei Prokofiev - charmingly played by the APO under the direction of Hamish McKeich - we are transported to renaissance Verona to experience Shakespeare's complex narrative of romance and tragedy amid long standing inter-family rivalries.

A cleverly mobile set by designer Academy-award winning James Acheson flies in and out, rotates and slides to establish the various locations of the story, ranging from Juliet's balcony and bedroom to the priory of Friar Laurence, the piazzas and streets of the city, and the Capulet's ballroom.

These scenes are subtly lit by Jon Buswell with some wonderful contrasts. He manages to convey both the claustrophobia of the ballroom and the liberating freedom of moonlight which intoxicates the young lovers.


The company of 35 dancers is in fine fettle and their crisp articulate dancing brings the characters to life. In the demanding lead roles, Madelaine Graham as Juliet and Joseph Skelton as Romeo, are seldom off stage and both credibly convey the various transitions of character required.

Laura Saxon Jones, as Juliet's Nurse and Sir Jon Trimmer as Friar Laurence are always reassuring in their regard for their young charges. Massimo Margaria and Filippo Valmorbida are wonderful counterfoils as Romeo's friends Mercutio and Benvolio, and there's no doubting the desire for control exercised by Abigail Boyle as Lady Capulet and Paul Mathews as Tybalt.

The ballroom scene is definitely a highlight, with waves of movement passing across the room and clever use of freeze frame and cameo to create spaces in which Romeo and Juliet first encounter and fall in love with one another.

There are as many as 30 dancers on stage at times, dancing with panache and precision. Piazza scenes also appeal, with frivolous social dancing in circles and chains, and vigorous fencing leading to dramatic deaths.

What: The Royal New Zealand Ballet presents Romeo and Juliet
Where & when: Aotea Centre, ASB Theatre, until Sunday
Reviewed by Raewyn Whyte