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Shakespeare En Pointe

Cityscape caught up with Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Madeleine Graham as she prepares for the lead role of Juliet ahead of the company’s world premiere of their lavish reimagining of Romeo and Juliet. Juliet is such an iconic character – how have you prepared for the role?

First of all I read the Shakespeare play to make sure that there wasn’t anything that I’d missed or assumed about the original story. I also watched the 1968 film version of Romeo and Juliet by Franco Zeffirelli which is where Francesco Ventriglia drew his inspiration, and watched a variety of ballet productions to see how others had portrayed Juliet. This is a world premiere for the Royal New Zealand Ballet; what can we expect?

Lavish Renaissance-inspired costumes and freshly-built sets resembling the streets of Verona. The music is fantastic, as everyone knows, and we will be joined by Orchestra Wellington, the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra as we tour the country. Also the choreography has been developed on the dancers of the company, which means the moves are perfect for our bodies and we aren’t trying to replicate a previous production. How would you describe Francesco Ventriglia’s interpretation?

Francesco’s goal is to stick to the original story as much as possible and to present it in historically accurate costumes – he brings a distinctly Italian flavour and passion. Tell us about your favourite scene.

I have three favourite scenes, but if I had to put them in order they would be:
1- Juliet waking to find Romeo dying.
2- The balcony Pas de Deux.
3- The potion scene. You have Oscar-winning designer James Acheson behind your costumes and sets – what has this meant for the production?

Stunning costumes! I have seven dresses and they are all magnificent and perfectly tailored. The hand embroidery on one dress alone took wardrobe supervisor Esther Lofley 10 hours to complete! James is used to working in cinema at the highest level, so the level of detail is intricate enough to look perfect in extreme close-ups. What’s the secret to maintaining the intensity across the season?

I think of a different way to approach my character each day. It might be to focus on a certain aspect of their personality or emotional state that I want to explore further, rather than thinking about the entire performance as a whole (every time). What’s your number one on tour survival tip?

Keep to a routine as much as possible, find time to properly relax in the mornings before a show, and give myself plenty of time for hair and make-up, eat well and don’t stay up too late. I also look after myself physically by icing injuries and regular massage and physio treatments. Royal New Zealand Ballet: Romeo and Juliet
25/26 August, Isaac Theatre Royal

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