Dance review: Romeo and Juliet Ballet, Royal Opera House, London


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The Independent Culture

Returning to the stage after a long injury, the Royal Ballet’s Lauren Cuthbertson is back in peak condition. She takes real risks in the giddy, swooning steps of Kenneth MacMillan’s duets, swooping right off balance and trusting her Romeo, Federico Bonelli, to catch her. Yet this revival just falls short of passion. There’s plenty of care in the storytelling, but the ballet’s star-crossed lovers need headlong ardour and despair.

It’s been a long wait for Cuthbertson to come back. She had surgery on her foot more than a year ago, with several return performance announced and cancelled. She’s a sleek dancer, tall and dark, prompting extra attention because – in an increasingly international Royal Ballet – she’s British-born and trained.

This performance shows new thought in her acting. Juliet is dancing with Paris, her approved fiancé, when she first sees Romeo. She can’t take her eyes off him, even when she tries to remember Paris. Finding Romeo in the tomb scene, this Juliet knows at once that he’s dead – when she kisses him or tries to wake him, she’s fending off the inevitable. Moment by moment, the performance is full of insight.

Yet Cuthbertson, and the company performance around her, seems muted. Perhaps her Juliet is be too thoughtful, not heedless enough. When Juliet is trapped between her family’s marriage plans and her love for Romeo, MacMillan has her sit on the bed, Prokofiev’s music surging around her as she tries to find an escape. Cuthbertson needs greater intensity here, more force in stillness.

She’s matched by Bonelli’s Romeo, who is lyrical rather than fiery. Bonelli is lively in the banter with his friends, and suggests Romeo’s wonder at Juliet, but it’s a gentle performance. The story’s tension isn’t helped by some sloppy playing from the orchestra, conducted by Barry Wordsworth.

Though this revival needs to warm up, it’s a polished performance, with strong support. Ricardo Cervera is a teasing Mercutio, spontaneous and naughty. His bantering scenes are light and crisply danced, but he also suggests the steely sense of honour that leads Mercutio into his duel with Gary Avis’ swaggering Tybalt.

The street scenes are lively, with bright dancing from the corps. Laura Morera, leading the three harlots, is hilarious: she may have a soft spot for Romeo, but she won’t let that soften her stroppiness.

In repertory until 7 December. Box office 020 7304 4000.