Streaming dance shows from the comfort of home has been tiding us over, while the theaters remain shut. But while cameramen often skillfully capture choreography on film, there’s a distinct difference between dance that is preserved in a recording and that which is created specifically for a recording in a screendance format. Balletboyz Romeo and Juliet Beyond Words film brings the two star-crossed lovers off stage and to the heart of fair Verona (actually, it was filmed in Etyek in Hungary, but it’s convincing enough).
The Romeo and Juliet ballet film, Beyond Words (2019), is available through BBC iPlayer for UK viewers until 21 June, 2020, as part of their Culture in Quarantine programme.
We included the BBC in our comprehensive dance at home resources article. While BBC iPlayer only works in the UK, we have listed many more organizations that are streaming dance performances and leading dance classes.
Beyond Words Movie Review
The ballet dancers saunter beneath stone archways and around the courtyard with a swagger and grace unlikely for a whole village population to possess. But it’s not just the visuals that bring us to Verona. We hear birds chirping and a dog barking over an up tempo 90-minute arrangement of Sergei Prokofiev’s music, played by the Orchestra of The Royal Opera House and conducted by ROH Music Director Koen Kessels.
If the first dance scene doesn’t jar you with the quick cuts that last a few seconds and shift perspectives massively from one take to the next, you’ll enjoy the Romeo and Juliet ballet film without any problems. The camerawork captures the busy spirit of a town, jostling with people, but some of the camera movements seem to exist solely to remind us that we are watching a dance film, rather than a static film of dance recorded from a fixed spot.
Approximately thirteen minutes in, the camera pans slightly left and right – but it doesn’t complement the choreography. It just shows a diagonal wooden slat in the top left hand corner. Why? And at times, the silhouette of a flower planter box steals a quarter of the frame. Again, why?
Sometimes the staging and the film work really well together. A youthful Romeo (William Bracewell) shares a silly, laddish pas de trois with pals Mercutio (Marcelino Sambé) and Benvolio (James Hay) around a fountain, as eager party-goers pass them by. Then, time seems to slow when Romeo and Juliet (Francesca Hayward) magically meet – they stand still, oblivious to the other dancing guests. And the outdoor shots in the rain wonderfully capture Lady Capulet’s (Kristen McNally’s) despair when she finds nephew Tybalt (Matthew Ball) slain.
We learned part of the court dance at the London Masterclasses Romeo & Juliet-themed masterclass, which combined the choreography of Rudolf Nureyev and Kenneth MacMillan.
In addition to highlighting the contrast in character between Lady Capulet and her husband, the choreography also shows Rosaline repetitively rejecting Romeo – and the evolving relationship between Juliet and Paris (Tomas Mock). Juliet’s shyness turns into frustration at his persistence, and she evades him with backwards bourrées, arms defiantly hanging at her sides. Oftentimes, she resorts to hiding behind the Nurse (Romany Pajdak). Still, their pas de deux at the masquerade is lovely, as Paris gently guides her off balance, then provides stability for her lifts and turns.
The speedy music shaves off time, so Mercutio’s grand dance at the party seems faster than humanly possible. He corrals the crowds out of his way and lets loose with a fantastic, frenetic exuberance. And the ballet breezes by some scenes much more quickly, altogether – like those with Friar Laurence (Bennet Gartside). Without dialogue, a quick wedding, kneeling head-height by votive candles as light pours in from a high window is perfect.
Did you know that Royal Ballet dancer Bennet Gartside teaches beginner and intermediate ballet classes in London for Everybody Ballet?
With a cast of incredibly capable Royal Ballet dancers and Kenneth MacMillan’s choreography, you know the performance has great potential. The costumes are rich and the setting convincing (the moonlit palace courtyard is particularly romantic) – and the leading dancer-actors, Hayward and Bracewell, easily gain our sympathy. The plot and pacing work, too. But, as the ballet ends, an empty feeling mingles with the tragedy of Juliet reaching for her lover, both dead.
Translating a dance to film requires a tremendous amount of work and creates an incredible range of possibilities. The Beyond Words ballet film has all of the ingredients for a stunning movie, but the melange of dance by a beautiful cast is occasionally obscured by the artsy camerawork. A few shots of dance through the gauzy curtains in Juliet’s room would have sufficed, ditto for the takes through the bars in the crypt. Still, it’s not a bad first foray into recording dance for film – and we hear that the BalletBoyz duo plan to shoot more ballets.
If you’re interested in learning more about screendance, creating dance for film and filming dance, read our interview with The Motion Dance Collective founder and director, Omari ‘Motion’ Carter.
Have you seen William Trevitt & Michael Nunn’s Romeo and Juliet Beyond Words film in the cinema – or streamed it at home? What were your thoughts about the choreography, the dancers and the recording? Let us know in the comments below.