Arts: Swanning along to the rescue

Next time Sylvie Guillem asks 'Romeo, Romeo? wherefore art thou, Romeo?' Adam Cooper just might be the answer. By Louise Levene
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Ticket touts were out in force at the Royal Opera House on Tuesday. There wasn't a seat to be had for Romeo and Juliet and indeed 50 people were happily managing without, willing to stand for three hours watching Sylvie Guillem. The additional treat they could not have anticipated was the last-minute withdrawal of her usual partner Jonathan Cope, who had unfortunately cracked a rib. He was replaced by Adam Cooper, the Royal Ballet dancer currently starring (and I do mean starring) two nights a week in the West End run of Adventures in Motion Pictures' huge hit, Swan Lake.

Since the acrimonious departure of the tall and pointlessly good-looking Hungarian Zoltan Solymosi, Darcey Bussell and Guillem have been forced into a risky time-share with Jonathan Cope. Very tall, very handsome and very reliable, the only fear was that the strain would prove too much for him. In the event, it wasn't a dance injury but fate at the wheel of a car that laid him low. Although Cooper has squired Guillem in one- act works, he has never been given a crack at a full-length dramatic partnership. This was his big chance to prove to the beady eyes of management (and the even beadier eyes of Mlle Guillem) that he was more than equal to the task.

Cooper has danced Romeo before but he wasn't scheduled to do so this season and the lack of rehearsal time showed in some of his early solos. He had wisely decided to cut his losses and spend the few precious days available working on the all-important pas de deux.

Juliet has grown into one of Guillem's strongest London roles. Far too many ballerinas dance the character as if Juliet herself had read the play and imbue their reading with a sort of Cassandra-like gloom that takes the sting out of the tragedy. Guillem's Juliet positively quivers with happiness and this blissful innocence of her waiting fate makes the ending almost unbearable.

The strength and lightness of her dancing, and the coltish charm of her acting, make her irresistible. Adam Cooper didn't even try to resist.

Guillem is reputed to treat rehearsals as a matter of stringent technical preparation, reserving her dramatic energies for performance. If this was the case with Cooper, then the explosive chemistry of their partnership will have surprised him as much as it delighted the audience. The bedroom scene was danced with utter conviction and they threw themselves into MacMillan's fiendish pairwork with a naturalistic hunger. Whether or not Bussell and Guillem continue to dance exclusively with Jonathan Cope remains to be seen. Tuesday night's performance demonstrated that there is no longer any necessity for this.

Cope wasn't the only absentee at Covent Garden this week. Thursday's revival of MacMillan's 1989 ballet The Prince of the Pagodas was drawn almost entirely from the subs bench. Ashley Page, Tetsuya Kumakawa and Deborah Bull were all absent and the resulting changes left the company in disarray. One hesitates to name names but, since you twist my arm: one dancer made such a lumpen dog's breakfast of the King of the North's first big solo that the normally over-polite first-night audience seemed collectively to sit on its hands. He improved as he went on but he couldn't fail to really - and he wasn't even replacing anybody.

At the centre of this storm of uncertainty and inadequacy shone Darcey Bussell, reprising the role of the exiled princess that made her a star at 20. Seven years haven't diminished her darting jetes and enduringly girlish beauty, and have only served to strengthen her technique and assurance. Her performance was a reproach to the dancing of many of her colleagues. Stuart Cassidy was her Prince turned Green Salamander and he danced the latter particularly well, darting lizard-like from pose to pose and curling his arms and spine to Benjamin Britten's exotic faux-gamelan sound. There wasn't much chemistry between them but that is hardly surprising in a manufactured cod-Freudian fairy tale like this. People complain that classical ballet princes are two-dimensional but Florimund is a positive Hamlet by comparison.

Bussell's dancing, Nicholas Georgiadis's stylised designs and the orchestra's relish of Britten's score remain the ballet's only real pleasures. The touts won't be wasting their time on this one.

In rep to 28 Nov, ROH, Covent Garden, London WC2 (0171-304 4000)