Great Performances

S48 E1 | CLIP

The Making of Romeo and Juliet: Beyond Words

Learn about Romeo and Juliet by the BalletBoyz, the award-winning team of Michael Nunn and William Trevitt. This romantic classic is vividly recreated on atmospheric studio sets in Budapest, combining inventive cinematography and dynamic choreography.

AIRED: September 11, 2020 | 0:18:51
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

♪♪

-"Romeo and Juliet" was one of the first ballets

that Michael and I performed in

as young dancers with the Royal Ballet.

-This production by Kenneth MacMillan

is one of absolute genius.

-Well, first of all, you have to admit

it's got one of the really great scores,

and it's a truly great story --

young love that gets corrupted by...

sort of by life,

and destroyed by life.

Love, hate, all those things -- is what fascinated him,

and I think he was always trying to make ballets on the stage

move like film.

He always objected to stopping and clapping, you know?

Basically, it was the stories of life that fascinated him,

never stopped reading and never stopped going to the film

the cinema, 'til his dying day.

-In the ballet world, people are used to casting,

but it's sort of done behind closed doors.

We wanted to make it an open process,

so we chose six or seven dancers for each of those characters,

got them into a room, and screen-tested them.

-We assumed that all of these dancers

could do all of the steps,

and so what we were looking for

was something beyond their technique,

something about their personalities,

their charisma, their charm.

-Some of the characters we thought would be great

in one role were actually great in others,

and it's always a pleasant surprise when that happens.

-I assumed when we had a meeting about it

and we found out it was happening,

I assumed you'd have, you know,

the principles being up for the Romeo,

so I had kind of written myself off for any of that.

I thought, "Oh, maybe I'd be a good Paris, possibly."

-Over the day, it became apparent

who was actually right for this film.

-And then throughout the day,

I realized watching other people's performances

and watching the Juliets kind of do their testing,

Frankie, for me, was just, hands-down,

the pretty obvious choice,

so I guess I thought,

whoever she ends up with is who is doing it.

[ Chuckles ]

-Frankie has this natural quality.

She underplays so well,

and for camera, that's absolute magic.

So, I think we took the pressurefrom Kevin O'Hare, the director,

a little because we wanted to cast the film.

It would be our decision,

and I think, you know, he was very happy with that.

-And I was able to explain it to the company

before we actually even started that process, and say,

"This isn't about how you dance at Covent Garden.

This isn't how I see your career to be in the future."

It's just that we really wanted to find

the right people for this film.

♪♪

-Once we got the casting right,

we then moved into the studio and began work on

what became our version of "Romeo and Juliet,"

in terms of the musical cuts and the choreographic changes,

and we needed to introduce that new version to the company.

-As well as working with the company in the studio,

obviously, Romeo and Juliet, Frankie and William,

both danced the roles, but never together.

So, that was interesting, to start that relationship,

to see how that was growing in the studio.

-We did a lot of rehearsals,

and I think we rehearsed the steps

and were really comfortable together, but I think,

more importantly,

we left room to be in the moment when we got there.

-We wanted to keep it really young.

-So, we arrive on set in Budapest.

I mean, it's an incredible place.

It's absolutely huge,

but we needed somewhere that big.

We're talking hundreds of costumes that were coming in,

all designed by the amazing Georgiadis.

We took over the office blocks there

just so we could fit our wardrobe in,

'cause you imagine that each dancer probably wears

two or three costumes throughout this production.

And then an amazing set of people just dressing the set,

just making it feel and look like Verona,

right down to the, you know, the animals, the chickens,

the donkeys, and I think everybody had

a completely fabulous time

getting this production ready.

And then of course, the final part of the puzzle --

when all the dancers arrive.

-Right, should we go -- let's go to the market square.

-One thing we knew we did have to get right was the floor,

so we spent a long time and a lot of thought

making sure it was the perfect surface for them to dance on.

-And so, we had shipped in from London

exactly the floor surface they're used to dancing on.

We had it laid on a sprung dance floor

so that they could jump and turn,

and felt like if we can get this bit right,

then everything else ought to just fall into place.

We don't like to make things too easy for ourselves,

so obviously, the first shot involves animals and children.

-Keep running. Keep running.

-And fortunately, the childinvolved is Michael's son, Rudy,

and he was a consummate professional.

-And cut camera.

-The sense of real excitement on the set was tangible.

You could really feel it was different to the theater.

This was a movie.

-It was a lot for us to plan,

to work out the shots,

and to be able to express

what we were trying to achieve in each shot

to the dancers was really, really crucial.

-You could see that everybody was having a fantastic time,

even though they were working really, really hard.

[ Excited chatter ]

-The weather was also very much on our side, so for the shots,

the sun was shining, and so, it meant we really had

a market in the middle of Verona, and it really worked.

-We're used to the stage and the wings and the lights on us,

and I guess just wearing what we wear on stage outside

with the actual heat from the sun,

it was a really cool experience, I guess.

-And it felt like we were those characters

at that particular time

in that moment, in that part of the story,

living our lives as those characters would.

-Reset. -Okay, we're gonna do it

all again, please, dancers!

-Standby for a take!

-One of the trickiest shots in this film

happens at dusk,

so we had to get this right.

Probably the most famous piece of music

within "Romeo and Juliet,"

and we had a sense that we really had to nail it.

-Billy? -Yes.

-Ladies will be looking at,

do we need someone who can see them?

-Coming further down the stairs.

-And we wanted to shoot specifically

as the sun was going down

so you got the sense of this party beginning

that would stretch out long into the evening,

and between us,

we had to work out quite how we were going to

do this famous scene justice.

-Down to the ladies.

-Yeah, give them loads of ambience there.

-The "Dance of the Knights"

is the most iconic piece of music

that Prokofiev wrote for "Romeo and Juliet."

Everyone knows it,

and it's a big set piece in the stage version.

-Action!

♪♪

♪♪

-Working at night, of course, is what dancers do.

Dancers perform in the evening.

But not outdoors like this,

with insects and animals and all sorts of problems going on.

I think our crane broke down that night

and we were waiting for our moonlight.

-No petting the dogs.

-[ Laughs ]

-And it was a fantastic --

almost like a party atmosphere, really, which is good,

because that's really what we had to recreate

for the ballroom scene.

-Stop petting the dog!

-There was such a nice atmosphere.

I feel like everybody was really

incarnating that space, you know?

That were all in the evening, it was medieval times.

There was such a good feel, the set was incredible,

and the light really...

It really felt like it was moonlight.

-For most of the first half of the shoot,

we were shooting in the daylight,

and then halfway through,

we switched to doing night shoots,

and that begins to take a toll on everyone.

Everyone's kind of tired, and it's not so easy,

but everyone was very, very focused,

and dancers are enormously disciplined.

-I'm gonna do my whole solo, or just cut in...

The whole thing at the end? -Would you like to do

the whole solo?

-My shoes are actually dying.

-Okay. So, just walk it through until you get to that diagonal.

-It was a lovely, warm night,

and, you know, you could feel the warm air,

and it kind of all added to, I guess,

how it would have been.

Budapest was pretty like Verona that night, I think.

Everything -- the noise of the, you know,

like, the insects at night,

and just the atmosphere was right, I suppose.

-Uh... Yeah, just after that.

-After she does the dip the second time.

-Partway through that that.

-And is she over here or is she over here?

-And in the march, you're sort of behind her,

aren't you, going through people?

That's how I wanted to do it.

-Action, Mr. Bracewell.

-I remember having another go at most of the scenes.

If something went wrong, you could try it again,

we could cut sections down

and very kindly edited the best bits into the film.

[ Laughs ]

It was when you said, "No, don't worry, you can't do it,"

that I was like, "Hang on a second.

I mean, if you give me a couple of goes,

I feel like I've got one in me."

[ Chuckles ]

[ Cheering ]

-The balcony part is one of those iconic, pivotal moments

of a Kenneth MacMillan ballet,

a pas de deux that he created first,

and everything else ripples out from that.

And so, we knew the balcony pas de deux

was absolutely crucial for us to get right.

-Also, the day we shot the balcony was my 26th birthday,

so I have that on film forever, that's great.

-Just looks so romantic through the cameras,

and we felt like someone is smiling on us tonight.

-It was an absolutely magical evening.

I think a storm was brewing that night while we were shooting,

it got very windy, and I think when we looked back

at the rushes of this, people always say, "My God,

you must have had huge wind machines on the set."

But actually, we just had luck on our side,

and it just gave it that extra little bit of magic,

which that pas de deux really deserves.

What's extraordinary about this company is that

a lot of these dancers grew up together, trained together,

maybe from the age of 11.

So, there's an extraordinary bond between them

and a trust that I think is really tangible on set,

and it just makes their performances

just that little bit more special.

-Me and Will, like, we've known each other for quite a while.

We were actually at the Royal Ballet lower school together.

-I'm good friends with James.

We're mates with Will,

we're mates with the Tybalt.

It felt like our generation was so there.

-Okay, Billy, when you're ready.

We can reset.

-I think we really trust each other, and it was...

yeah, it's always just really interesting to be out there,

exploring something with someone you're comfortable with.

-That's everyone.

That's the extras, that's anyone up there.

-Okay.

-I wanted to see everyone's acts, because, obviously,

I, "Juliet," never really comes across any of the townspeople

or Mercutio or Benvolio -- we never meet in the story.

So, I came down to the set that day,

and it actually really ruined me.

I actually get emotional talking about it now.

-And I remember just --

I really tried to just get myself into

a really bad, bad place.

-I mean, I was on my loudspeaker

trying to preempt the fights for the guys fighting.

-I knew that Mercutio would not be well portrayed

if I was going to get nervous.

He needs to be the opposite, he needs to be

so unaware of anything and, like, owning, be heavy.

He needs to be the heavyweight of the trio.

-Just setting up the tracks. It's gonna be a lot smoother.

Button the shirt.

[ Score playing ]

-Two, three, and...

-The fight's incredibly complicated,

and we wanted it to travel through the streets of Verona,

so several different locations,

and that meant a lot of crowd choreography.

♪♪

-Hey!

♪♪

-It also meant that probably Michael had to demonstrate

a little bit more than he wanted to.

♪♪

-When you get there and you do that scene

in the middle of everyone, on dirt,

and with the sun hitting in your face,

nothing can prepare you for that,

so that was a real moment there.

-As a company, we love Marcelino,

and we actually felt like we were watching Marcelino die.

♪♪

♪♪

-Stay still.

♪♪

-Try not to breathe, Marcy.

-And to watch Will's reaction to his friend being taken away,

and Matt's reaction, it was just --

we all just -- there was that one second when the music

comes in when Mercutio gets taken off,

and I think we all just, like, "Let's go for it

and do it in one take and just come together."

-So, we reset -- Marcy's dead, and that was it.

I was kind of gone, and I was like,

"Right, okay, well, I'm in that place now,

in that just horrible place."

-Four!

-Here we go!

Keep moving!

-Everyone got so involved, though.

I didn't even look around at the cameras or anyone watching.

We just felt like we were actually there.

They could actually kill each other.

It felt really, really real to be in there,

and then halfway through, when the rain came down,

we were just like, "Oh, my God,

this is actually really happening."

It was really an amazing experience to be in the show.

-Keep that rain coming!

-Three! Four! -And then to have rain

kind of plunged upon us, it really felt like something

very real, I suppose,

in a way that the stage maybe could never quite achieve.

-Four! Three! Four!

♪♪

-We had obviously been told that it was gonna start raining

at a certain point.

-We were just like, "Let's just go for it

as if this is actually happening."

-So, none of us knew what to expect.

None of us knew how it was gonna feel.

We were going into that completely blind.

-There wasn't much that we could do to prepare ourselves

for how kind of visceral, I guess, it was, really.

-I don't remember much

about what actually happened.

I remember going with it,

just getting really disgustingly angry.

-And I remember kind of it going by in a blur,

from the moment the rain came down

to suddenly being dead on the floor.

♪♪

-You're horrified, Romeo!

-Kristen came on,

made everything even worse,

'cause she was just incredible,

and I won't be able to get her scream out of my head.

-[ Wailing ]

-Obviously, Lady Capulet has her solo with your body,

and I was kind of marvelling at the surrealness of the moment.

-It's incredible.

I've always watched Kristen as an amazing actress.

I've seen her do a few acting roles

in some of the ballets here, but nothing like that.

-Romeo!

-I think it's more the noises that I remember from that day,

that Kristen sobbing,

and the rain and the boys fighting.

I think once Kristen started to make some noise,

I think it made everyone else feel like

they were able to do the same.

-We all had to have a moment to be like,

"Oh, wow, this was so real."

Everyone was in tears because it just felt really, really...

I don't know, emotional to see it live,

and we could just hearthe voices and the director say,

"Oh, yes, kill him, Romeo"

And we all just felt like it was actually gonna happen.

-I think to be surrounded by a really strong ensemble,

it gives you as a kind of central character real courage,

I suppose.

-They're not just dancers, they're actors,

and for MacMillan, that's exactly what he requires

in his ballets, and I think to make the film with

these dancers was the only way to make the film.

[ Cheers and applause ]

-Cut camera, please. Thank you.

Thank you, dancers.

That's a fabulous scene.

Thank you.

-My part as Juliet was,you know, somehow quite separate

from the rest of the company,

but the film has the feel it has because of the way

the whole company sort of came together to make it work.

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

STREAM GREAT PERFORMANCES ON

  • ios
  • apple_tv
  • android
  • roku
  • firetv

FEATURED PROGRAMS

Wyld Ryce
WQED Sessions
WLIW21 Specials
We Sing
Variety Studio: Actors on Actors
Under a Minute
UNC-TV Arts
Tree of Life: A Concert for Peace and Unity
Tis the Night with Ben Folds & Friends
Theater Talk
Theater of The Mind Radio Drama
The Set List
The Lowertown Line
The Jazz Ambassadors
The Historic Attucks Theatre: Apollo of the South