DANCE: Romeo and Juliet Royal Opera House, London

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The Independent Culture
The mouthwatering prospect of Darcey Bussell and Igor Zelensky starring in Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet attracted a capacity crowd at the Royal Opera House on Tuesday. The couple's bravura dancing in Bayadere earlier this month was a big hit with the crowd and Zelensky's huge jump and manly bearing are a rare sight on a stage too often starved of excitement.

MacMillan's Romeo was always going to be a challenge for him. The steps, created on small-made dancers schooled in the petit-point English tradition, are hard enough for the current Royal Ballet generation to master. The chief problems for Zelensky arise from the very qualities that make him so desirable. His powerful jumps and grand manner don't respond well to being scaled down and the vibrancy of his stage presence made those around him appear to be dancing in black and white.

The Royal Ballet's performance was a half-hearted, scrappily danced affair that highlighted the weaknesses in the ballet's structure and the longueurs of the ensembles. The swordfights would have had Basil Rathbone turning in his grave. Perhaps despairing of making the fights look murderously authentic, the Royal Ballet has resorted to stirring in a bit of ketchup which renders Mercutio's death even less palatable than usual.

The evening's comic high-point came when David Pickering's Paris and Ashley Page's Tybalt turned on Zelensky in the ballroom: this particular Romeo would have eaten them for breakfast. Page's menace is not enhanced by the ludicrous marcel-waved doormat he is obliged to wear for the role. Tybalt would be far more menacing with a bald head and a bit of designer stubble.

It wasn't much of an evening for music lovers either. Anthony Twiner seemed to have so little grip on the orchestra that folk in the stalls chatted throughout the overture and sensitive souls in the circle winced at the brass section's lapses and at the turgid phrasing.

The consolation for both Zelensky and the audience was Darcey Bussell. Neither she nor her partner are physically suited to their roles but Bussell has been carefully trained to turn her height into an asset so that dainty little things like Manon, Giselle and Juliet acquire an unfamiliar power combined with a curious coltish vulnerability. The huge and obvious advantage of pairing her with Zelensky is that his bulky frame and rugged features contrive to make the rangy Bussell appear a fragile child. Alliances have been arranged for Bussell before with Irek Mukhamedov, Robert Hill and Zoltan Solymosi. Zelensky is the first one who could dance, act and be very, very tall all at the same time. His promising performance took fire in the pas de deux as he whirled her long limbs through space or circled the stage in airborne jumps whose eerily silent landings caused you to doubt your own hearing.

Most Romeos are content to kiss the hem of Juliet's garment but Zelensky made his hunger for her apparent by taking a ravenous bite of chiffon. Despite these earthy touches there was no immediate chemical reaction between them, but don't forget that most of the great discoveries in chemistry are the result of long hours of hard work.

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