Ballet: Romeo And Juliet, Sadler's Wells, London<img src="http://www.independent.co.uk/template/ver/gfx/fourstar.gif"></img >

Across a crowded room...
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The Independent Culture

Birmingham Royal Ballet's Romeo and Juliet is an ensemble performance. These dancers have a collective energy, a shared commitment that is very appealing. Though there are good individual performances, it's less a star night than a company achievement.

And the company is on a high just now. This Romeo was the production at the centre of the Channel 4 programme Ballet Hoo! Ballet Changed My Life, in which disadvantaged young people worked with the company, dancing in a special performance on 28 September. That show was an overwhelming success. A month on, the company's regular dancers are still on lively form.

Paul Andrews's designs are rich but never stodgy, giving the whole ballet the look of a renaissance painting. His scene changes can be enchanting: with the addition of a grand arch, the garden mural on Juliet's wall becomes the real garden of the Capulet palace.

Within this handsome frame, Nao Sakuma makes a pretty Juliet. She's maidenly and very demure. In the first act, when Sakuma fluttered modestly at the touch of Paris's hand, I wondered where the passion and rebellion were going to come from. But she builds to a kind of reckless despair. When her parents urge her to marry Paris, Sakuma shows us how trapped she feels, how ready she is to try any escape. Her dancing is pretty, too, light and nimble.

Robert Parker is an eager Romeo, dancing with energy and force. This is a role full of jumps; Parker bounds into them, ready to soar or swagger. His floppy hair makes him look puppyish, but he keeps a sense of authority, with some lovely moments of repose. In bed with Juliet, he lies propped on his elbow, watching her sleep with complete absorption.

Parker is genial in the public scenes, matched by Jamie Bond's Mercutio and Steven Monteith's crisp Benvolio. Prokofiev wrote an awful lot of market-place music, and this production sags in its long second act. But the Birmingham dancers keep it afloat: the crowds shift and move, bursting into dances and quarrels, always pushing the story forwards. The soloist roles, strongly cast, were especially bright.

Joseph Caley, overflowing with good humour, lifted the mandolin dance from filler to showpiece. His jumps are buoyant, his technique sure, strong and lively. As the three Harlots, Sonia Aguilar, Carol-Anne Millar and Angela Paul were bold and agile, with Millar particularly punchy.

Sometimes the playing is too broad. Jonathan Payn's Tybalt does too much fist-shaking. This is a role that can have icy authority, but here he's an unsubtle bruiser. But it doesn't mar the evening's general energy.

Victoria Marr is a kindly Nurse, and Marion Tait is superb as Lady Capulet, showing gaunt dignity even as she raves over Tybalt's body. Barry Wordsworth conducts a forthright performance by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia.

In this Sadler's Wells season, Romeo followed an all-Stravinsky triple bill. Kim Brandstrup's Pulcinella, which had its premiere in Birmingham this spring, is still a disappointment, but The Firebird is in very good shape. Millar made a pugnacious Firebird, bounding through the enchanted garden with a high, bright jump, while Wordsworth brought out the fire and colour of Stravinsky's score.

Touring to Plymouth Theatre Royal, 2-4 November (01752 267222)

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