This is a snag in Kenneth MacMillan's choreography for the Royal Ballet's 1965 production of Romeo and Juliet, revived on Friday. The star-crossed lovers show many great moments of arching, aeriel beauty, but they rarely excite us. Then, towards the end, the swooning girl suddenly shows some spirit. Obliged by her exasperated parents to engage with the suitor of their choice, she rebels: floppy in his arms when he wants a firm hold, dragging her toes when he wills her upright, doggedly refusing his gaze and finally throwing good breeding to the wind in a bout of arm-wrestling. We want to cheer.
Darcey Bussell's Juliet needs this kind of friction to keep the audience awake. As Juliet-in-love she's a dream; but like all dreams she's insubstantial. The perfect symmetry of her spread form when Romeo wafts her above his head in the balcony scene fails to make its proper impact, because at that stage we cannot quite believe she's real.
It can't have helped that Bussell's partner changed at the last moment. Adam Cooper, the Romeo from the second cast, stood in for the injured Jonathan Cope at one day's notice. Cooper supplies everything we want in a Romeo: youth, beauty, perfect jumps and pheromones. Only once, when he adjusted an awkward grip, could we guess that he was used to lifting a different Juliet.
And yet . . . surely we should have felt something more, some current between the two. Bussell so looks the part, with her 14-year-old Grace Kelly face and long foal-like limbs - yet she never quite throws herself into it.
Of all the great lyric roles, Juliet demands an actress-dancer, and MacMillan offers special opportunities for such a dancer to make her mark. When Juliet first appears on the balcony, unaware of Romeo below, she is allowed two minutes of Prokofiev's music in which to improvise. Some have played it chaste, others languid, sexy, or ecstatic. Darcey Bussell simply stands and looks blandly straight ahead - a wasted opportunity. But there are scalp-tingling moments. When a stricken Romeo finds Juliet as if dead in the tomb, he embarks on a mad duet, repeating the motions of their love and flinging the body repeatedly over his shoulder as if it were an old overcoat. The boneless placidity Bussell achieves here is nothing short of a miracle.
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