First Night: Romeo and Juliet, O2 Arena, London

3.00

A love story big enough for the O2

How do star-crossed lovers register in an arena? The O2 is almost six times the size of the Royal Opera House, where the Royal Ballet dance Romeo and Juliet.

Some details do get swallowed by this venue. The big crowd scenes blur, but Kenneth MacMillan’s famously impassioned duets keep their power. As the story’s focus shrinks to Juliet’s bedroom, then her tomb, the ballet reaches out conquer this cavernous space.

Arena ballet isn’t new. The Royal Ballet has danced in huge venues abroad; in Britain, English National Ballet regularly does Swan Lake in the round, the traditional choreography reworked for a circular stage. For the Royal Ballet’s O2 experiment, Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo, created in 1965 for an opera house stage, is almost unchanged. Nicholas Georgiadis’s sets have been simplified, and there are short film interludes to cover scene changes. Otherwise, it’s danced straight.

There’s film during the performance, too. As at the biggest rock concerts, screens give closeups of the performers. The dancers are working on two levels, for the camera and for the auditorium.

For the Royal Ballet, this is an important experiment, an attempt to bring ballet to a wider, probably younger audience. The practised ripple of applause that greeted the lead dancers suggests that plenty of Covent Garden regulars had made the trip down to Greenwich. Other audience members came and went, popping out for drinks or eating pizza during the overture. The evening ended with a roar of approval.

This production is a good choice for arena transfer. It’s been packing audiences in for decades, a huge popular hit long before the Royal Ballet thought of the O2. Its first performance, danced by Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, made the Guinness Book of Records for the greatest number of curtain calls.

The choreography has some of MacMillan’s best-loved pas de deux, Juliet soaring in Romeo’s arms. Prokofiev’s score is stirring, with surging love music and the famous “Dance of the Knights”. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra play live, though there’s a touch of tininess to the amplification, the different instruments separated out.

The crowd scenes look small-scale on this open stage, without the frame of a proscenium arch. Though the company dance strongly, it’s much harder to pick out the ongoing dramas in the bustle. The ballroom scene, with its sweeping dances, is still remote.

It’s the individuals who make the ballet work. Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta, the first-night lovers, are international dance names with big personalities. When Rojo’s Juliet dashes in, still playing with dolls, her attack and energy reduce the distance between stage and public. There’s a wonderful scale to her dancing, an abandon in her flowing line.

Acosta is on form as Romeo, focused in his solos and ardent in the duets. The whole company is on its mettle for this new venture, dancing with fierce pride for a new audience. In luxury casting, Sergei Polunin danced Benvolio, stepping in to lead the mandolin dance with sensational verve. Rupert Pennefather is an elegant Paris, sure of his rights but not certain how to insist on them. Elizabeth McGorian rages grandly over the corpse of Thiago Soares’ swaggering Paris.

But it’s Rojo who carries the performance. The last act focuses on Juliet: her confrontations with her family, her flight to Friar Lawrence, the lovers’ deaths in the tomb. Rojo’s drive brings these scenes into closeup, intimate even in the O2.

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
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
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.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game