The prime of two Juliets

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 April, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 April, 1993, 12:00am

SWEET, soulful Ravenna Tucker. Tiny Sandra Madgwick, the freckle-faced firecracker.


Only a great choreographer could see the same immortal heroine in these two startlingly different dancers and the late Sir Kenneth MacMillan was just such a visionary.


Both wonderful for the role of Juliet, decreed the legendary Briton who died last October, leaving the ballet world in mourning - and so it will be this week when the Birmingham Royal Ballet performs MacMillan's magnificent Romeo and Juliet at the Cultural Centre Grand Theatre.


In fact there are five Juliets in this production. Rightly, tomorrow's opening night honours have gone to Marion Tate, regarded as one of the world's greatest interpreters of MacMillan roles and the Birmingham Royal's artistic director, Peter Wright, haschosen two other exceptional talents - Tokyo-born Miyako Yoshida and 20-year-old Spanish wunderkind Monica Zamora.


All can be counted on to bring something special to MacMillan's ballet, yet local eyes are bound to linger longest on the dancers with the Hongkong connections.


''My parents moved here about nine years ago and I reckon they'll stay till 1997,'' said the daughter of British civil engineer Ken Madgwick and his wife Shirley.


''It's great to be back - but no, I've never lived in Hongkong.'' Ravenna Tucker, the Malaysian-born Eurasian marvel did. She was seven when she moved here with her family, not much older when she started ballet classes run at Kowloon Junior.


Her years there and at King George V School, the long hours spent at the Christine Liao School of Ballet under the critical eye of her teacher and mentor Paula Lau, and most of all, those magical days at Sai Kung's Outward Bound, founded by her father Jack Tucker - so many memories.


They have been laden with grief since the recent death of the gruff, hearty Englishman who wrote that excellent manual for Hongkong hikers, Safety in the Hills and whose greatest pride was his gifted daughter, but the sadness was hidden yesterday.


For Ravenna Tucker, former principal of the Royal Ballet and now a star with the Royal Birmingham Ballet, the show must go on - and few roles have brought her greater kudos than the star-crossed heroine of MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet.


''A performance already lustrous and one that will grow in passion and depth,'' wrote the Guardian's Mary Clarke in 1984 when Tucker made her triumphant debut in the role.


At 31, she believes she is at her best yet. ''These are the peak years; the time when you really feel you've matured artistically,'' she says.


''The very best,'' echoes 30-year-old Sandra Madgwick, who like her fellow Juliet, was trained at the Royal Ballet School - and almost got tossed out because at not-quite-five-feet, she was considered too short.


Supporting the 60-strong touring ensemble will be the Hongkong Philharmonic. To the lush music of Prokofiev will be added sensual joys of another kind: the sets and costumes created by the 22-year-old Paul Andrews.


''He was in his final year of his degree course at the Wimbledon College of Art when Kenneth MacMillan discovered him,'' a company member said.


''A couple of stage sets Paul had done for Wimbledon's end-of-degree exhibition was all it took. On the strength of those, Sir Kenneth commissioned him to do Romeo and Juliet. Absolutely incredible.'' Partnering the five Juliets in Hongkong will be three Romeos, Joseph Cipollo and brothers, Kevin and Michael O'Hare.


How the chemistry works with the different partnerships should be fascinating, especially as MacMillan had very firm ideas about the role which Ravenna Tucker calls ''every dancer's dream''.


''He saw Juliet as quite young and very innocent, rather than the wilful character some choreographers have created.


''That's not to say she lacks spirit. There's plenty of fire when she rejects Paris - much as you would expect from an Italian girl.'' After Hongkong, it will be on to Bangkok for the Birmingham Royal Ballet. There, the famous company formerly known as the Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet will perform Sleeping Beauty, though Hongkong won't miss out entirely on the classic fairytale.


It's the ballet that has been chosen by the Hongkong Ballet Group for its production in August at the Cultural Centre. And dancing Princess Aurora at the Grand Theatre will be guest star, Ravenna Tucker.