Nearly twenty years since it was last performed by the company, John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet has returned to the Australian Ballet. This was well worth the wait, judging from the rapturous audience applause on opening night at the Sydney Opera House.

English choreographer Cranko achieved a rare feat in the history of dance by successfully translating Shakespeare’s story of tragic love into a compelling ballet form. Upon premiering in 1962 for the Stuttgart Ballet, it immediately became one of the leading balletic interpretations of Shakespeare’s classic 1597 play. The Australian Ballet honours this majestic achievement with a sparkling production that truly awakens the senses.

Photo credit: Daniel Boud
Linnane is a broodingly magnetic Romeo

Callum Linnane and Sharni Spencer are spectacular in the titular roles. The palpable chemistry between them makes the audience feel every high and low, from reckless romance to impending doom. Every pas de deux elicited audible swoons from the audience. Spencer inhabits the role of Juliet with grace, elegance and sublimely nimble footwork. Utterly delightful as a playful, childlike ingenue, she grows before our eyes into a woman who is wildly in love.

Linnane is a broodingly magnetic Romeo. You can see why Juliet falls for this compelling hero. With a captivating blend of romanticism and raw physicality, he is convincing as the flirtatious, impudent youth who becomes an ardent, impassioned lover, willing to sacrifice everything including himself in the name of love.

romeo and Juliet Australian Ballet
Photo credit: Jeff Busby

Adam Bull is devastatingly good as the brutish Tybalt, protector of the Capulets’ family pride. Cameron Holmes is charming as Romeo’s friend Benvolio and Nathan Brook’s Lord Paris is a dashing rival to Romeo for Juliet’s affections. Brett Chynoweth almost steals the show as Romeo’s wingman Mercutio, with his winning combination of impishness and virtuosity. Joshua Consandine is unrecognisable in playing two vastly different roles as The Duke of Verona and Friar Laurence. Stephen Heathcote and Amy Harris bring gravitas to the roles of Lord and Lady Capulet, while Olga Tamara is by turns nurturing, playful and heartbreaking as Juliet’s nurse.

Indeed, the contagious energy and remarkable athleticism of the entire troupe is nuanced by a fine sensitivity that has been carefully nurtured by artistic director David Hallberg.

Special mentions must be made of Jürgen Rose’s vibrant costumes and the simply stunning sets, which help transport the viewer to medieval Verona.

The audience will viscerally feel the liveliness of the marketplace, the opulence of the Capulets’ ball, the heated fights between the feuding Capulet and Montague families, the pining from Juliet’s balcony and the heady intensity of young love. Effortlessly fusing dance and drama, Cranko’s choreography flows naturally from Sergei Prokofiev’s unforgettable score, beautifully performed here by the Opera Australia Orchestra led by conductor Nicolette Fraillon.

romeo and Juliet Australian Ballet
It has it all – love, rivalry and death

This is more than a sumptuous feast for the senses. Love, conflict, violence, rivalry, death and suicide – Shakespeare’s classic story and Prokofiev’s dominant score are brought to life by Cranko’s choreography and delivered by a prodigiously talented company of artists. As the high drama unfolds, dancers and audiences are bound in a profound emotional experience which will linger long after the curtain has fallen on the epically tragic ending.

Tickets for The Australian Ballet’s production of Romeo and Juliet can be purchased here.

  • When: 1 – 21 December 2022
  • Where: Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House