Romeo & Juliet Researched – The Pas de Deux

It is no secret that one of my favourite ballets is MacMillan’s Romeo & Juliet. The last time the Royal Ballet performed it I saw three casts and I wrote a guest post about MacMillan’s choreography for A Younger Theatre. The Royal Ballet are reviving it again next month and I will be seeing it twice: once with my favourite pairing from last time, Cuthbertson & Bonelli, and once with a new pairing, Hamilton & Watson.

As I enjoy the ballet so much, I’ve decided to delve a bit deeper and analyse the piece. Alongside this post which discusses the ballet’s Pas de Deux, I’m also hoping to look at topics like the music and use of narrative devices in future posts. Hope you enjoy!

Pas de Deux in MacMillan’s Romeo & Juliet

As Frymoyer ([2]) notes: In the world onstage, balletic gesture reveals how Romeo and Juliet understand themselves and the world around them. Nowhere is this communication stronger than in the three central Pas de Deux where the lovers discover their love, and then experience the ultimate heartbreak.

Unlike more classical ballets, the Pas de Deux in Romeo & Juliet do not follow the standard structure of adage/alegro, variations and coda. This is partly due to the musical characteristics of these segments: Rapid shifts of meter, tempo, harmonic and rhythmic texture, and affect give the music a spontaneous nature that presents to us the psyche of the protagonists ([2]).

The Pas de Deux are so important, in fact, that Prokofiev gives them the central `Romeo & Juliet Theme’, the musical centerpiece of the ballet ([1]). As Bennett notes, the theme contains not only the rhapsodic ecstasy of the love dance, but also the unspeakable tragedy of death ([1]), something MacMillan’s choreography also reflects over the three Pas de Deux.

Pas de Deux 1: Balcony Scene

I have chosen my favourite pairing to showcase the stunning Balcony Pas de Deux – Lauren Cuthbertson and Federico Bonelli of the Royal Ballet

The first Act of the ballet culminates in perhaps the most preminant scene in all theatre, Romeo confessing his love to Juliet on her balcony. As the scene opens, we see Juliet standing on her balcony and Romeo’s theme is played on an organ as she wistfully dreams of love and marraige.

Following Romeo’s stealthy entrance, Juliet almost skips down the stairs, barely containing her excitement at seeing her new love. Her innocence is reaffirmed with her placing Romeo’s hand on her breast to feel her beating heart, and Romeo tells her to wait as he declares his love (2:25).

Romeo’s musical theme reappears in an altered form to form Romeo’s variation ([1]) which starts very grounded, with a string of renverses, attitude turns and saute de basques. The speed of MacMillan’s choreography seems to reveal Romeo’s excitement and he is only paused on the approach of Juliet. Juliet lays her head on his hand (3:10), which seems a choreographic nod to the lines:

See how she leans her cheek upon her hand
O that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!
(II.ii 23-25)

This is followed by a combination almost entirely based around expansive leaps (acting almost as a reprise to the earlier section) – revealing a more expressive Romeo.

As Romeo’s theme culminates (3:35), Juliet opens her pirouette into arabesque with her arms wide as if opening her heart to the world. This is one of my favourite parts in any ballet (it gives me goosebumps every time!) and signals the start of the “Love Dance”, whose theme has emerged out of the Romeo theme like a butterfly from a chrysalis ([1]). As the pair dance together the fluidity of the choreography speaks of their predestined love, something the dancers have to achieve to give this duet its potency.

The lovers present themselves to the world, unashamed of their love, in a slightly unusual promenade arabesque (with Juliet’s inside leg raised) finishing facing the audience asking for acceptance from society (4:22). The lovers proceed to open up to each other with arabesques, developpes and lifts all more expansive than the last.

As Romeo falls deeper in love, with a gesture to place his head on Juliet’s dress, she flits away to pose in the opening expansive arabesque that started the dance, trusting Romeo to come and catch her (5:10). Once more asking for acceptance from society, Romeo lifts Juliet high above his head (5:25), perhaps as if to place her back in the safety of her balcony.

Giving Romeo the opportunity to fully express his love, Juliet suddenly worries for Romeo (5:45), checking for her family: If they do see thee, they will murder thee (II.ii 74). She then runs back to Romeo who once again raises her high above him, in the iconic lift (5:50) that seems to echo his lines:

O, speak again, bright angel! for thou art
As glorious to this night, being o’er my head
As is a winged messenger of heaven
(II.ii 28-31)

Lauren Cuthbertson as Juliet and Federico Bonelli as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet © Bill Cooper/ROH 2012 by Royal Opera House Covent Garden, on Flickr

Lauren Cuthbertson as Juliet and Federico Bonelli as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet © Bill Cooper/ROH 2012 by Royal Opera House Covent Garden, on Flickr

Juliet now gets a chance to show her love with a playful combination (6:15) almost mimicking Romeo’s earlier renverses and attitude pirouettes, before skipping her way around him delicately en pointe, a movement MacMillan uses to emphasise her childlike playfulness (contrasting her more stately walking when meeting Paris). Romeo supports her in a sequence of arabesques (6:50) – as she literally falls into his arms declaring her love.

Finishing with two even more trusting lifts (7:20), the couple take a moment to truly see each other. Romeo lifts Juliet onto pointe and, well, Juliet’s slightly shocked expressions says it all. With a final touch of their reaching arms, the curtains close on one of the most beautiful pas de deux in ballet. I really feel that MacMillan got the perfect balance between telling the story through the dancing, but not sacrificing the beauty or flow to do so.

Pas de Deux 2: Bedroom Scene

The Bedroom Pas de Deux is here performed by one of the most famous Romeo and Juliet partnerships: Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta at The Royal Ballet.

As the curtain rises on Act III, the newly married lovers are in Juliet’s bed (the Capulet’s orchard in the play). The bedroom Pas de Deux is a clever counterpart to the Balcony Pas de Deux: motifs reappear from Act I but in distorted forms to display the change in the lovers’ relationship. The Pas de Deux as a whole is a lot more physical and extreme – as if to sacrifice beauty for emotion, reflecting Romeo and Juliet’s acceptance of the harsh reality of their love.

Romeo rises and, thinking on the fatal actions of the previous day, dons his cloak. In a mirroring of the balcony scene he intends to hide from Juliet, only this time to sneak away. As Romeo looks out at the rising sun, foretelling his departure to Mantua, Juliet wakes and begs him to stay:

Therefore stay yet; thou need’st not to be gone. (III.v 16)

Reminding Romeo of their love (both physical and emotional) Juliet recalls movements from the Balcony Pas de Deux, though slightly altered. Instead of the open, expansive arms in arabesque, Juliet now reaches forward as if yearning to escape the nightmare she has found herself in (1:50). Romeo drags her back and embraces her to remind her of his devotion. As he lowers her to the side, she turns away from him and the overhead lift becomes less ecstatic and more a sign of resignation to fate (2:18).

The following sequence references the previous love duet, but the feel of the piece has completely changed. Juliet is restrained, and Romeo seems to become the instigator of the dance. As he spins her you feel like Juliet is losing her grip on the situation, reflected in her dejected and resigned movements. She has accepted the impossibility of their love, shown in the agonising reprise of the previously defiant arabesque pose at 3:26 – both lovers accepting their doomed fate.

Romeo lifts Juliet high above his head (3:52) once again, but this gesture is reminiscant of a crucifixion, foretelling Juliet’s coming death. As she drops into his arms she appears lifeless before escaping his grasp to present herself to the unyielding morning sun, as if a sacrifice against the dawn. Romeo pulls her back (4:07), spinning her into his arms with great force.

As Juliet pleads once more with Romeo, she falls at his feet (4:35) – a role reversal from the Love Dance. Echoing the motif from Act I, Juliet falls from arabesque into Romeo’s arms (4:45). The movement is much more extreme now, Romeo catches her whilst standing before dropping to the knee, Juliet’s previously low arabesque is nearer vertical, and she visibly strains against him. This is all evidence of how much more is at stake now; their heightened emotions are pushing at the boundaries of their bodies and hearts.

We hear the light hearted theme that Juliet skipped away from Romeo to in Act I, but she now leaps through an entrelace (5:00), and runs to the corner where she stops in shock. As she breaks down, she opens herself up but this time Romeo stifles her movement to pull her away. She reaches to escape in a series of arabesques (5:15) and we cannot help but feel her torn anguish as she collapses to the floor.

Just as with the Balcony Pas de Deux, we finish with a kiss and an outstretched arm: the first almost pitying, and the latter unreciprocated as Juliet bids Romeo farewell:

O, now be gone; more light and light it grows. (III.v 35)

Pas de Deux 3: Death Scene

The final scene of the ballet is here performed at La Scala by the Prima Ballerina Assoluta Alessandra Ferri and Angel Corella.

The final scene of the ballet takes place in the Capulet Crypt. The music pronounces the stately elegiac ‘Death Theme’ as Juliet lies on her bier. With Paris mourning by her side, Romeo appears in the shadows, but makes no attempt to hide as he stabs Paris (2:55).

Romeo emulates the start of Act III as he climbs next to Juliet. He drags the unconscious body across the stage, approaching the corners as if to emulate their triumphant pose from Act I (3:15). As [2] discusses, choreography is the lovers’ primary way to communicate so Romeo shares his grief through it.

Romeo tries to echo the final triumphant lifts of the balcony pas de deux (3:30) as we hear the love theme emerge from the deathly orchestrations. As the music resumes it’s funereal theme, Romeo places Juliet back on her bier and takes the poison (5:30).

As Juliet wakes she discovers Romeo lying dead and, reverting to her childlike naiveity, trys to shake him awake (7:00). She futilely tries to pick him up, as if for one more dance.

At this point Prokofiev renders the music “undanceable” ([2]) and MacMillan leaves Juliet rooted to the spot as orchestral sound sweeps over her, negating the visual space and “envoicing” rather than “dancing” her grief ([2]). This is the final proof that all is lost for Juliet – even her ability to express herself through her movements has been taken from her.

She screams as the music crescendos (7:20): strings shriek up and down two octaves, great screams of anguish that reach heights that our nerves and ears can scarcely bear ([1]). She rushes to pick up the dagger from Paris, and delivers her own fatal blow (7:45). Collapsing on the bed she drags herself towards her lover, and stretches out a hand to him, just as at the end of the balcony scene, when their love was still pure and innocent, and the end of the bedroom scene, where their ending was foretold.

The death scene is really beyond words, and usually renders me completely speechless at performances. The quotation of movements from earlier in the ballet just makes it all the more poignant and affecting. A fitting end to the most tragic of love stories.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading this post – it took some effort to research but I’ve found it fascinating to delve deeper into one of my favourite ballets. I’m hoping to do some more “in depth” posts on ballets (not just Romeo & Juliet), the history of ballet, and technique. Let me know if there is anything you think I should cover – just pop a comment on this post.

Until next time, keep on dancing!



[1] Bennett, Karen. Star-Cross’d Lovers: Shakespeare and Prokofiev’s `pas de deux’ in Romeo and Juliet. The Cambridge Quaterly, Vol. 32, No. 4, 2003.

[2] Frymoyer, Johanna. Ballet as the Subject’s Speech: Defining Classical Gesture in Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Proc. of Sound Moves Conference, 2005.

How time flies!

They say that time flies when you are having fun. This is certainly the case when I realised that this week marks my 3rd “Ballet-versary” – it’s three years since my first ever ballet lesson!

Me dancing with Ellie in the Le Corsaire Adage (© Derwood Photography). Would never have believed I could do this!

Me dancing with Ellie in the Le Corsaire Adage (© Derwood Photography). Would never have believed I could do this!

I can’t quite believe it. It seems like only yesterday that I did my first ever plié and got confused by “the glissande-thing” (at least I know my terminology has improved since then!).

Since my first class I’ve managed to do so many things I could have never imagined. I daren’t think of my reaction if you’d told me before that first class that I’d perform in a full-length Swan Lake as Rothbart, or that I’d perform the full adage from the Le Corsaire pas de deux.

The only reason I’ve been able to do so much is that I’ve been lucky enough to have some truly amazing teachers. Not only have they been patient and welcoming, but they’ve inspired me to push and stretch myself beyond my self-imposed boundaries. I cannot thank them enough, and hope that they can see just how grateful I am.

I also need to thank all you readers! You help inspire me with every comment, tweet, or hit to the website. In particular, I love receiving emails from people just starting ballet. If you have any questions then feel free to tweet me or send an email to And if you thinking about taking the leap into your first ballet class – DO IT!

Something else that happened this last week that I’d never have imagined three years ago. Thanks to being a Student Ambassador for the Royal Opera House last year, I was chosen to get a week’s work experience there. I was working with the Digital Development and Digital Media teams and had an amazing time! I can’t go into much detail about the actual work but I got to work on some exciting projects for their website and even wrote a couple of news pieces – my first ever article on the ROH website is about the awesome mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato!

Just being part of such an institution for the week was highly inspiring – everyone I worked with seemed so passionate about their work. Plus, walking past dancers like Lauren Cuthbertson, Steven McRae, Thiago Soares and Bennet Gartside in the corridor (and mainly being too ballet starstruck to say hello!) was obviously a massive inspiration, even if I never managed to escape work to go see Don Quixote rehearsals… I guess I’ll just have to wait until the opening gala at the end of the month!

This last Sunday (just like every fortnight) I had 4.5 hours of ballet – and loved every second. It was jam packed – my teachers had me learning Basilio’s variation from Don Quixote, the opening section of the Swan Lake Pas de Trois, and the following Pas de Quatre from Raymonda‘s Grand Pas de Dix:

Needless to say – so much fun!

I’m going to try to update the blog a bit more regularly than recently – my life is settling down into a bit of a routine so should be able to fit in more blogging. Unfortunately, work has meant I’ve had to stop my Tuesday class each week, but I’ll still be taking class every Wednesday and Friday, and every other Sunday for my mammoth rehearsal sessions. I’ll be blogging about stuff happening in class and preparations for two productions I’m going to be in – La Fille mal Gardée with the adult group in December (I’ll be performing as Colas), and Cinderella with the youth ballet company in March (I’ll be performing as the King and Dance Teacher). I’m also planning some pieces on specific ballets – Romeo & Juliet is top of the list (as it’s my favourite ballet!). Please let me know if there’s anything you want to read about.

You’ll also notice some changes to the DaveTriesBallet website over the next few weeks. I’ve been having some real difficulties with WordPress at the moment – all of my comments have vanished from the dashboard! So I’m also taking this as an opportunity to freshen up the site a bit – any feedback on the changes is very welcome.

Until next time, keep on dancing!


P.S. An update on the website: Thanks to the truly amazing @clouddancefest comments should now be working! Unfortunately I’ve lost all previous comments (*sadface*) but new ones should work – yay!

Summer School, Injury and Rehearsals

Once again I have taken ages since my last post to update the blog – apologies! This has partly been down to moving flat (finally done!), partly due to work/future career stress (my supervisors want me to submit my thesis in June/July – argh!?! The real world beckons…), and partly as I’ve been feeling down and didn’t want to fill a post with me moaning. So what’s been happening?

Four weeks ago was my Russian Youth Ballet Company’s Summer School. I’d been excited about this for months – two weeks of daily class, repertoire and pas de deux work. Pure bliss!

Arriving on the Monday I was slightly nervous – would I be completely out of place both in terms of technique and age? This was answered immediately: sat in a circle we took turns to introduce ourselves. Virtually all the dancers were around 16 and at vocational schools: Royal Ballet School, Elmhurst, English National Ballet School; even four girls who had travelled over from Japan! Luckily there were a few familiar faces among the students – including the only other guy who I know from the YBC (he’s an amazing dancer and is off to ENBS!). I had no time to worry how out of place I’d be though, it was straight to the barre and on with class.

During the week I was pushed harder than ever before in ballet. Class was fast-paced, tricky, and physically demanding with longer and mor complex combinatins than my normal classes. As the girls got ready for pointe, me and the other guy worked on a male variation with my teacher. He taught us a variation from Gayane – a ballet by Khachaturian, the same compose as Spartacus. It was the hardest, and longest, variation I’ve ever danced and, as you can probably tell from the following recording of the music, it was epic!

Following the girls pointe class (a quick 20 minute break for the boys) it was on to a combination of pas de deux, repertoire, and character. The PdD involved a series of combinations culminating in a short section of the Adage from Don Quixote. The repertoire was a waltz from La Fille mal Gardée – the Russian versin, not the Ashton – and included some really nice partnerwork. Finally, the character piece was a set barre work music from Carmen, taught by a guest teacher who danced with my teachers in Russian – the piece had a very flamenco feel!

Every day I came back to my house sore and tired, but with a huge grin on my face (even if rush hour traffic meant a 2 hour drive!). On the Friday things were slightly different: after a quick barre we started rehearsing for the end of week performance to family and friends. We’d be doing a selection of centre exercises, the other guy and I would each perform the male variation, the girls would demonstrate some pointe exercises, we’d work through the PdD exercises, before finally performing the Carmen and La Fille mal Gardee pieces. I had to keep reminding myself to mark during rehearsals to save my energy. Thankfully, before I even had time to get nervous it was time to start!

Here's Vasiliev doing the jump I was talking about - EPIC!

Here's Vasiliev doing the jump I was talking about - EPIC!

Centre exercises went well (even if I did forget the brisé at the end of the petit allegro…) and then came my variation. Eek! I was going first and took my place downstage right of the studio. With a small bow to the audience I ran to the upstage left corner to start my opening diagonal of leaps, including an awesome “Spartacus-esque” leap. The was followed by a pirouette combination before heading to the back of the stage to collect my “flaming torches” (there weren’t any actual torches, so we had to just pick up thin air). Next up were a sting of three soutenous to tours en l’air to the knee, followed by a “torch-wielding” pirouette. With another small bow to the audience there was a more lyrical renversé-grand fouetté combination leading me downstage for a manège of more fun leaps. Finally, with lungs bursting and legs screaming, there was a diagonal of grand jeté en tournant sulminating with a tour en l’air to the floor. Phew! Here’s the only video I can find on YouTube of someone dancing the variation – it’s not exactly the same choreography but is close:

By some small miracle I managed to both remember the whole variation and execute it as cleanly as I could have possibly hoped for. I was ecstatic and really proud of myself. I watched the other guy perform – he absolutely blew me away! He was truly awesome: double tours left-right-and-centre and fantastic ballonne in his leaps. So inspiring to watch! As we both tried to catch our breath we joined the girls after pointework for PdD. This also went really well – even the penchée promenade – and it was on to the two repertoire pieces. Both went well and I didn’t feel completely stupid letting my inner-matador out for the Carmen piece (olé!). Then all to quickly it was time to head home, with the weekend to recover before week 2.

That night I was shifting some stuff from my old flat to my new house when I noticed a sharp pain in my left bicep. I ignored it and had pretty much forgotten about it the next day when I drove to help my brother and his wife move into their first house. Sure enough, a couple of bags of garden clippings later and I felt the same pain, but this time much worse. By the evening it was hurting to do most things involving moving my arm and when I brushed the inside of the bicep against anything I felt a really sharp electric pain that lingered for quite a while. This certainly din’t seem a good sign.

It stayed as bad all throughout Sunday and after a restless night’s sleep I got an appointment with the University Nurse on the Monday morning. After examining it (ouch!) she told me she thought it was superficial thrombophlebitis which is (as far I understand) a small clot near the surface of the arm that surrounds a vein (which causes the pain). Even though I knew the answer, I asked about ballet – “four weeks of absolute rest” for the arm was the treatment. I was gutted. Not only did I have the second week of the summer school starting that day, but the guest teacher was the Senior Principal of English National Ballet, Elena Glurdjidze.

I tried to pick myself up and started the hour’s drive to Bristol – if I couldn’t dance then I could at least watch class. Perched on an aerobics step at the side of the studio I watched the students warm up and get ready for class. Elena took class and you could definitely tell that she had been at school with my teachers – there was the same methodology behind her exercises which was great to watch. Moving to centre, she introduced some exercise with a Raymonda feel – this was no coincidence as she would be teaching the girls the Act III Variation later in the day. As class finished the two boys (both also from the Youth Ballet Company) started learning a short variation from La Fille mal Gardée which I could mark the legs for at the back of the studio. It was a really happy and chirpy piece that looked really fun to dance.

Next up was Elena teaching the girls Raymonda – wow! Having recently played the eponymous role with ENB, Elena was every inch the icy imperial queen whilst demontrating (such a transformation from her lovely self!). It was amazing to watch: every movement told the story and the smallest of breaths became as important as an arabesque. To be able to watch such a demonstration up close was an honour and hugely inspirational. It was also inspiring to see how quickly the girls picked up the variation, and by the end of the session some were already adding the little nuances that Elena had talked about. Here’s Elena dancing Raymonda with Ivan Putrov – amazing!

As I headed home that night I was glad I had been able to observe, although I was still absolutely gutted not to be able to dance. I returned on the Tuesday to observe again, before working on Wednesday and Thursday. Finally on Friday I headed in to watch the end-of-week performance. I was so impressed and could see clearly the improvements in the students, especially the girls in the Raymonda variation. I definitely saw some future stars in the group!

So following that I’ve had three weeks of doing no ballet. It’s been so frustrating! It doesn’t help that I’ve been stressed with moving flat and work – ballet usually chills me out so I’ve been a bit highly strung. I’ve tried to do some cross training but it’s been surprisingly difficult to find things I enjoy that don’t use my arm – no swimming or rowing for starters.

Last week my arm finally started to feel (almost) back to normal. Perfect timing as I had the start of rehearsals for Cinderella that the Youth Ballet Company will be performing in February. I’m so excited for this, and found out I’ll be playing the King in Act II, as well as sharing the role of the Dance Teacher in Act I. With 4 days of rehearsals I’ve had a lot of choreography thrown at me, but I think a lot of it has stuck. At least I hope so!

The choreography is proving much more difficult to learn than Swan Lake: unlike Tchaikovksy, the Prokofiev score offers very little distinct music cues so much longer sections have to be learnt all together. It is also much more physical than Swan Lake – I get thrown around by the step-mother (my teacher in drag) which is proving a lot of fun!

I also got some exciting news last week. The adult group I dance with is putting on a shortened version of La Fille mal Gardee, and the girl who is choreographing it has asked me to be Colas! I’m really excited about this (although not so excited about the yellow tights!) and can’t wait to get stuck into rehearsals.

So that’s my (overly long) round up of the last few weeks. I’m now off to work… at the Royal Opera House!!! I’m here for my week’s work experience working with their Digital teams. Look out for an update next week!

Until next time, keep dancing!