In Conversation With Daniel De Andrade and John Longstaff – at Northern Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet

Northern Ballet’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’ returned to Leeds Grand Theatre this month after its last performance in 2007. The dance company’s efforts to revive its signature ballet were rewarded with impressive standing ovations.

Romeo & Juliet became the company’s greatest success in 1991, when it was first adapted for Northern Ballet by Christopher Gable and Massimo Moricone.

“It saved the company,” says Daniel De Andrade, who played a big part in this year’s revival after joining the company in 2003. He alludes to Northern Ballet’s economic downturn at the time, which was rescued by Christopher Gable’s artistic vision in 1991.

Since its debut, the company’s production has expanded into a world tour, with a Christmas feature on BBC. Dance Europe commends it as ‘an innovative and original force in British Ballet,’ aligning with their performance last weekend.

Rachael Gillespie

With a striking start in Act 1, Act 3 concludes in a more intimate manner, creating an emotional whirlwind ranging from love and violence to comedy taken to the extremes.

It’s very dramatic, powerful and very human,” says Daniel.

Daniel explains that Christopher’s combination of drama and dance sets it apart from other traditional ballets. His influential choreography, inspired by his experience in acting, has now become the Company’s narrative style.

Aaron Kok

He recalls working with Christopher himself, highlighting his equal dedication to drama as well as dance. “I often saw him take a dancer aside who had a very small part and explain the emotional background of every dancer’s character.”

After seventeen years, Northern Ballet’s revival of Romeo & Juliet was an obvious choice. The Company shares its pride in the ballet’s achievements; reflected in box office success and audience engagement.

Daniel: “The dancers don’t have to fake it; they’re living and enjoying the moment, which is truly beautiful to see.”

Dominique Larose and Joseph Taylor

But for every triumph, there’s a downfall.

John Longstaff, director of orchestration, says that Northern Ballet’s adaptation of the original repertoire ‘was a question within limits’. He explains that the original production is written for a symphony orchestra three times the size of Northern Ballet’s, and for stages larger than those Northern Ballet has access to on their tour.

In the early ‘90s, John was contacted by Northern Ballet with the aim of reducing Prokofiev’s original music composition. Engaged in another project at the time, John rewrote the score in only three weeks, emphasising that there were no computers to assist in the process.

Despite its substantial cuts, the performance retains its ability to reflect the emotions of Romeo & Juliet, which he describes as ‘angry, sad, characterful and colourful tunes’.

“It’s a powerful piece of dance theatre,” says John, referring to its compelling elements. With Northern Ballet’s mesmerising dancers, remarkable set and Prokofiev’s timeless music, it truly captures the drama and romance of Shakespeare’s tale.

Northern Ballet Dancers

In 2001, Northern Ballet faced severe setbacks: a large portion of their archive for ‘Romeo & Juliet ’was destroyed in a fire only three weeks before the opening night. Not many years later, floods struck Leeds in December 2015, once again causing major damage to the company’s sets and costumes.

“It’s been a labour of love,” says Daniel De Andrade.

Credit to the ballet’s technicians, workshop and wardrobe staff, who persevered in restoring the damaged archive to the beautiful costumes seen on today’s stage—an achievement all the more impressive, considering the ballet’s economic challenges.

“It’s a key moment to bring this performance back on stage, to support what the company is going through; every arts organisation in the country is struggling financially,” emphasises Daniel.

During intermission at Leeds Grand Theatre, dancers showcased their costumes while raising funds for the resilient company. George Liang, one of the performers last weekend, danced outside the dress circle, eager for donations.

“There is beautiful music and an abundance of love poured into this production—by stage management, staff, dancers, and orchestra members. You’ll be able to see the dedication of everyone involved in bringing this production to life,” says Liang.

All photography by Emily Nuttall. Main image: Dominique Larose and Joseph Taylor.

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