Darcey Bussell and Igor Zelensky, Sadler's Wells Theatre, London
Romeo and Juliet, Barbican Pit, London

Two bright stars, but a dim performance

What is it that sells out a season months before it opens? In the case of Darcey Bussell's freelance gig with Igor Zelensky it might have been something like panic. Dismayed by Bussell's reduced presence at Covent Garden, still more by hints that she may quit for good next year, fans of Britain's best-loved ballerina didn't hesitate to book ahead for the thin, ill-conceived programme that opened on Tuesday night. Expecting to be dazzled by two of the dance world's brightest lights, what they got was low-watt energy-saving.

Bussell has been working flat out at the Royal Ballet these past weeks, but Sadler's Wells patrons shouldn't have to make allowances for that. Had they known their £35 was buying seven minutes of Bussell, one subdued solo from Zelensky, and a scant 18 minutes of them together, they may have not have bothered. The padding comes courtesy of six dancers from the State Ballet of Novosibirsk that Zelensky now directs - perfectly able dancing to perfectly forgettable choreography, and a fuzzy recording of Philip Glass.

Do Darcey and Igor get out much? Do they know that Sadler's Wells audiences expect live music? An orchestra was billed to play the Handel for Zelensky's solo, but he decided at the 11th hour to cancel it, for reasons undisclosed. Yes, dancers tend to get attached to certain recordings, and they're usually rotten ones, but shouldn't live performance be properly live when possible? The Musicians' Union used to be adamant about this.

The one new work on the programme - Kiss, by Alastair Marriott - has some merit, though its book-ending shots of Bussell's back view are misjudged, the lighting giving her cellulite thighs. In truth that sculptural, open-air physique is still her best asset, and it was clever of Marriott to cast it in poses drawn from Rodin (the originals being on view just across town). Bussell's one-time Royal stable-mate William Trevitt gives support, and looks as rugged as any man might recreating The Thinker in pale mauve Lycra.

Zelensky was dressed like a burglar on a chilly night for his solo, a longish trawl through floor-bound turns devised by fellow Russian Alla Sigalova. We were obviously meant to read the clenched fists and rigid arms as a spirit in torment, but the dancer conveyed only a bad mood, becoming grumpier through a series of lighting glitches.

On a technical level at least, things look up in Le Jeune homme et la mort, the celebrated 1946 two-hander by Roland Petit to a scenario by Jean Cocteau, set in a Paris garret. But Zelensky is no Nureyev, still less a Jean Babilée, the work's original suicidal anti-hero. The Russian vaults over the furniture with fine abandon, a blond hunk in bare chest and frayed jeans, but again, spiritual torture evades him. His is the despair of a man who has run out of Gauloises.

Similarly, Bussell's femme fatale belongs in a fashion shoot, and even the moment when she rubs her foot in her victim's groin lacks sadism. It's a performance that leaves you wondering whether dancers should ever be allowed to choose their own repertory.

The other returns-only season running in the capital springs more pleasant surprises. Despite his guru status abroad, Korean director Oh Tae-Suk is barely known in Britain, so it can only be his choice of Romeo and Juliet that sold out the Barbican Pit. But this is no R&J you have ever imagined. Cast as comedy, it features wild slapstick, song and dance, and infectious quantities of grinning. Playing fast and loose with Shakespeare's text, characters deliver their lines to the audience rather than each other - appealing once you get used to it. Despite some dodgy translation of subtitles (Romeo's "I will cut the maidenhead of that girl tonight!" caused unintended mirth), this martial arts-flavoured contraction of the play contains scenes of poetic justness such as will lodge in your brain forever. The bedroom scene is childish rough and tumble under a room-size sheet. The game ends with Romeo cocooned in fabric, bound and gagged by fate. As you laugh, tragedy tightens its grip.

jenny.gilbert@independent.co.uk

Romeo and Juliet (0845 120 7500) to Sat

Arts and Entertainment

photography
Arts and Entertainment
Adolf Hitler's 1914 watercolour 'Altes Rathaus' and the original invoice from 1916

art
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible