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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
    Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

    Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

    They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
    The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

    20 best days out for the summer holidays

    From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
    Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

    All the wood’s a stage

    Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
    Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

    Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

    Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
    Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

    Self-preservation society

    Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
    Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

    Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

    We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor