With Birmingham Royal Ballet presenting Romeo and Juliet at Theatre Royal Plymouth, here’s an interview with Lachlan Monaghan and Yu Kurihara, by Roz Laws
It’s just the sort of passionate and impulsive thing that Romeo would do. When Lachlan Monaghan was 17, he planned to fly 10,000 miles to surprise his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day.
He was prepared to splash out on the considerable air fare, to spend just three days with his love in his home city of Sydney before returning to the Royal Ballet School in London.
“My mum said, ‘Don’t you dare!’” he laughs. “She told me how ridiculous it was and talked me out of it. But I am a romantic person.”
The well-loved ballet, with Kenneth MacMillan’s beautiful choreography and Prokofiev’s famous score, comes to the Theatre Royal in Plymouth October 27-30, where Lachlan will play Romeo.
It’s his dream role, one he has been eager to play since he left Australia at the tender age of 16 to move halfway across the world for a career in dance.
“I have longed for so many years for this opportunity, so it feels quite emotional and surreal,” he says. “Everyone knows who Romeo is, so that comes with a lot of pressure.
“I have watched the ballet so many times, especially the balcony pas de deux. My first appearance in it was as a student, playing one of the townspeople. Then when I came to Birmingham I was Mercutio, which was my most rewarding role until now. Dying on stage and having Romeo squeeze your lifeless body is unforgettable. Now I have to carry Juliet’s body in the crypt, which is even more heartbreaking.”
Lachlan is used to playing leading men, especially the Princes in Cinderella, Nutcracker and Swan Lake. But Romeo feels different.
“In those ballets, I have to be a perfect image of a regal prince. But the thing I’ve always loved about MacMillan’s choreography is that we’re encouraged to display honesty. We’re allowed to be human beings, not dancers. We don’t always have to stand in a ballet position, and if you feel tired you can breathe hard and show it. When people are stabbed, they don’t then go into a beautiful arabesque. There’s a level of authenticity in this ballet that I can’t wait to explore.
“I hadn’t actually rehearsed Romeo before, and now I realise how every step is so much harder than I imagined! They are some of the most technically difficult steps I have ever danced, but you have to make them look as if they’ve just come pouring out of your heart. Emotions are riding high, and that’s what pulls you through.”
As well as dancing, Lachlan is also a great pianist and a photographer, often capturing his castmates in striking moments backstage. Four of his pictures are currently selected for the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists Photographer Prize. He’s also in the second year of a six-year Open University degree in Business Management.
“I have ambitions to be the director of a ballet company,” he explains. “I could get injured and my career could end tomorrow, which is scary. I adore this job, but I like to surround myself with other passions I can draw on too.”
The pain of overcoming injuries is something that Lachlan’s stage partner knows only too well. Performing alongside him as Juliet, in her first role as soloist, is Yu Kurihara. She’s had a meteoric rise at Birmingham Royal Ballet, as she only joined in 2018 and is still just 22.
It’s especially impressive considering the massive hurdle Yu has already overcome in her short career. At 16 she was on the verge of leaving her native Tokyo to join the Royal Ballet School when she injured her knee while landing a jump. The serious ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury happened only two weeks after she was awarded first prize at the Youth America Grand Prix, a major global competition.
“I was doing so well and then suddenly, nothing,” remembers Yu. “I was worried that it would stop my career before it had even started.
“I needed an operation and lots of physiotherapy. They told me I would have to be off for 12 months. I thought ‘I can’t stop for that long’, but in the end I was away for almost two years because I also hurt my meniscus and needed another operation.”
As for her promotion, she modestly says “I was just lucky”, though there’s no doubt her talent played a major part.
The performances will mark Yu’s debut in the iconic role of Juliet, something which she has been looking forward to for a long time: “I’ve never performed in Romeo and Juliet before, and it’s always been a dream of mine to dance this role, so it’s very special moment to perform Juliet”.
“This is such an amazing opportunity for me to grow, not only as a dancer but also as an individual. The story is very deep, so the more you think about this role, the more you find out about yourself too – I’m learning so many things from Juliet.”
Lachlan says: “It feels amazing to be back on stage. It’s fantastic to be able to perform at The Theatre Royal, and it will be so special for the company to be back there. These big classical ballets need a big space.
“To be in front of audiences again after so long was intimidating at first and nerve-racking. But the audience was 100 per cent behind us and it was incredible to feel that buzz. Everyone was so excited to be back in the theatre.”
Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet plays Theatre Royal in Plymouth October 27-30. For tickets, go to theatreroyal.com.