Yasmine Naghdi and Matthew Ball are about to make a joint début as the young lovers in Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. It is part of the current run at the Royal Opera House to mark the ballet’s 50th Anniversary. For these young dancers – she’s a Soloist, he’s a First Artist – it’s a big opportunity and another rung up the ladder to the top. It’s not, however, the first time that the two have danced together.
We danced Olga and Lensky in Onegin last season – says Yasmine – that was the first pas de deux we danced together. We also danced together in Wayne McGregor’s Infra, the finale pas de deux, in New York so I love to think of this as the beginning of our partnership. I value Matthew a lot as a person, a colleague and as my dance partner, and we work well together… it just all feels so natural between us.
Both of them have come through The Royal Ballet School, though not in the same year: Yasmine is 23 and Matthew, 21.
I remember being a year-nine student – aged 13, Juliet’s age! – when he joined in year-seven when he was 11. It’s strange to think that we were just children at White Lodge and now we are dancing a big début together! If someone had told us then, we would have never believed it.
Matthew’s a great partner, I love dancing with him and we really have such trust in each other. It is our White Lodge background that binds us.
So Matthew… nerves?
Yeah, a little bit. It’s certainly a huge opportunity.
Shakespeare’s Juliet is just thirteen, but Romeo’s age isn’t specified. Many commentators think he’s in his late teens or early twenties. In in Matthew’s case, the dancer and his character could be the same age.
As Romeo and Juliet presents such an ideal of love, of what love can be, it has to be young… it has to be unrestrained and carefree… rough around the edges I would say. I definitely feel it in the choreography and the steps.
I think the role has to be rude and grimy at the same time as having an incredible purity to it. The play its full of innuendo and sexual connotations… jokes… fooling around with your friends and stuff. I try and play it as relaxed as possible and not to stand there looking like a refined gentleman from Verona. I hope I can bring that to the part.
Certainly it’s great to have Yasmine with me, younger than most of the Juliets for sure.
They are both approaching their roles for the first time, although they know the piece inside out. As Yasmine says,
I’ve been in Romeo and Juliet since I was a student, and I rose to become ‘Juliet’s friend’ so I’ve always been able to observe whoever was dancing Juliet, whether I was dancing in the ballroom scene or when standing on the staircase as Juliet’s friend.
It is a role that I have watched with a lot of passion and, of course, I was dreaming of dancing Juliet at some point in my career. I have danced numerous soloist roles, but to dance a principal role in one of the most beautiful full-length classical ballets ever created is a true honour for me.
One of the things that I’ve been considering a lot is the difference between his infatuation with Rosaline at the beginning, and how you can make it different from what he discovers with Juliet. At the beginning he’s got a heavy heart, depressed by this idea of love: love is cruel. But when he sees Juliet it is completely natural and simple, it makes him elated, and brings their love up to a different plane entirely. He’s just joyous.
At the same time as this happens, though, it kicks off a chain of events which leads to complete disaster… tragedy. It’s a hard mix to get, between his moments of absolute ecstasy and real grief… I mean, you watch your best friend die, at your hand almost.
For me the real change is from the Romeo at the beginning and the Romeo after he sees Juliet. From the moment when he says, “But he that hath the steerage of my course, direct my sail”, he becomes a new man.
Like Matthew, Yasmine too uses Shakespeare’s text to inform her interpretation of MacMillan’s choreography.
Shakespeare’s play has had an influence on how I understand my character and her interaction with Romeo. I’ve also watched Zeffirelli’s film Romeo and Juliet with Olivia Hussey, who is absolutely incredible as Juliet, as a reference for acting out the character.
I also have quotes from the play in my mind as I dance, for example, the moment when she realises that Romeo is from a rival family, “My only love sprung from my only hate!”, and “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, and so on. I have an audiobook of the play, so when I’m on the tube making my way to and from work I listen to it, and I also have the music on my iPod. It’s such a fabulous score, a veritable love story, and the fact that it was MacMillan who created this ballet… it’s hard to describe what I feel!
She grows from an innocent girl into a love-struck young woman who is caught between the two feuding families: situations like this can still occur in the 21st century.
says Yasmine. Matthew agrees:
It’s a universal and timeless story that’s for sure, and I think Romeo and Juliet out of all the Shakespeare plays translates very well to modern adaptations.