The callas lilies on the screen that greeted the opening night audience for the Australian Ballets Romeo & Juliet symbolised the themes of beauty and death. No surprise there; everyone knows the story. But, this being a Graeme Murphy production, even the familiar was turned on its head. The great choreographer used the trusted Akira Isogawa for costumes and Gerard Manion for sets and, with a legion of other talent, delivered a production that should set off rave reviews and long be remembered. The tale of doomed young love pitted against deep-set family divisions is sadly universal and many imaginative elements in the production could be seen as illustrating a relevance across time and place. Some worked better than others, such as the costumes that lightly suggested a period or a quality, as with the main protagonists innocence. The point of the nurses 20th century uniform, the bicycles and other elements were less obvious and, although I understood the point of the Bollywood sequence the ultimate flight from reality I found it odd. However, the mannered fight between the Montagues and Capulets that opened the work, the icicles dripping from the ballroom ceilings and the overblown roses that framed Juliets bedroom were just some of the elements that worked well and were classically Murphy. The figure of Death literally stalked his victims throughout the action, and yet the beauty of the encounters between Juliet and Romeo allowed hope, in the face of all reason. Prokofievs music was used to great effect, as in the lightness of Juliets dance and the following pas de deux and, by contrast, the Montagues and Capulets theme: relentless, percussive and heavily accented. Orchestra Victoria, under chief conductor Nicolette Fraillon, understood and conveyed every nuance in a performance that matched the brilliance on stage. And brilliant it was: opening night artists Madeleine Eastoe as Juliet, and her Romeo, Kevin Jackson, set a standard which all other casts may have difficulty matching. Both were entirely believable, conveying beauty, attraction, trust, innocence and playfulness, all of which would be turned by events to deep sorrow and loyalty that defied death. It is to the credit of all dancers that their fine performances were intrinsic to the power of this production; through them came a delineation of character that was truly Shakespearean. The many sight gags were entirely true to the Bards practice of setting humorous moments against the backdrop of great tragedy. More needs to be written about this production to do it justice, but I would need a lot more space. The production is a sell-out in Melbourne, and likely to be in Sydney deservedly so. Quite apart from the thrill of experiencing the Australian Ballets great performance it made me extremely proud of our national company, the wealth of talent behind the scenes and, simply, the genius of Graeme Murphy. Rating: Five stars Romeo & Juliet The Australian Ballet Choreography Graeme Murphy Creative associate Janet Vernon Music Sergei Prokofiev Costume design Akira Isogawa Set design Gerard Manion Lighting design Damien Cooper The Arts Centre, State Theatre September 12 24 Sydney Opera House December 2 21 The FOXTEL and AUSTAR channel STVDIO will screen a live broadcast of Romeo & Juliet on Wednesday 21 September from 8pm. Screening before the broadcast, from 7.30pm, is a behind the scenes look at the production, the documentary A New Vision.