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Romeo and Juliet

Ballet in three acts choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan
Royal Ballet
Royal Opera House
(2010)

Production photo

Kenneth MacMillan's first full-length three-act ballet, created 45 years ago for his muse, Lynn Seymour, and Christopher Gable, pulsates with drama and tragedy, and commedia dell'arte. Monica Mason has cast eight very different couples to lay bare the souls of the doomed lovers, but the best-laid plans as usual go the way of best-laid plans. The first night couple suffered their own drama. Injury had taken its toll. Rupert Pennefather replaced Carlos Acosta, and the dynamic was lost.

The pairing looks attractive: the tall English public school boyish fine-featured attentive Pennefather contrasted with the self-contained petite dark-eyed Mediterranean Tamara Rojo. But her dominant technique and determined steeliness expose his hesitancy in bravura display. She could eat him up for breakfast any day: he is delicious if a little bland, more a courtly chivalrous Dowell, than a cocky Baryshnikov, or the mad, bad and dangerous to know Nureyev of my recollection. In their duets there was little danger or impetuous passion, though that first kiss was full on. No sailing close to the wind, no sense of rashness, but there were compensations.

Rojo commands the stage in Act Three, when, emotion spent, aware that resistance towards her parents is useless, she sits on her canopied bed to contemplate her destiny, and lets Prokofiev's music speak for her. After that point there is no going back, and every sinew of Tamara Rojo's body and her immaculate dancing express the inner journey she has travelled in her chilling decision to be with Romeo and to defy her family whatever the cost.

Unconvinced by her vulnerability and youthful innocence as the bud bursting into flower, and indeed the balcony scene with Pennefather lacked soul, I was won over by her headstrong intensity and her dramatic timing in the final act. It was worth the wait. Lorca-esque darkness suits her style, and personality, I suspect.

Gary Avis, always good, was a macho Tybalt; David Pickering a handsome chiselled wooden Paris, which is as it should be; the boys about town lived up to their swagger: Sergei Polunin was so laid back as Benvolio that his Russian intonation was almost slowing down the tempo, and José Martin's impish Mercutio buzzed around like an irritating bluebottle, one of the zanni in all but name.

The sword fights kept good time to Prokofiev's music, to which Mariinsky theatre conductor, Boris Gruzin, gave full swell. Familiar music in which one finds new meaning each time of listening, as one does in MacMillan's psycho-drama version of Shakespeare's play. Each viewing, each staging, each new cast, brings new possibilities and outs details that one has not noticed before. Monica Mason's staging is tightly paced, and John B. Read's lighting is crucial.

Its 421st performance, and it is still fresh and vital. Nicholas Georgiadis's cinquecento palette for the lush costumes, vibrant earthy market place, whores, hot-headed young men, wedding pageant, classical loggia, gloomy crypt, high Capulet walls, and the stage filled with courtiers and inquisitively-posed ladies of the court for the Capulet ball, across which Romeo and Juliet spy each other in a heart-stopping moment. The Royal Ballet can do no wrong with this in its repertoire. MacMillan's choreography and Prokofiev's music hit the mark - the dancing, whatever the standard, is a bonus. And there's some choice partnering to look forward to.

In rep till 16 March 2010

Reviewer: Vera Liber