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
Howard Mollison, as played by Michael Gambon
tvReview: Too often The Casual Vacancy resembled a jumble of deleted scenes from Hot Fuzz
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David performs in his play ‘Fish in the Dark'
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Jemima West in Channel 4's Indian Summers (Joss Barratt/Channel 4)
tvReview: More questions and plot twists keep viewers guessing
Arts and Entertainment
Kristin Scott Thomas outside the Royal Opera House before the ceremony (Getty)
film
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Channel 4's Indian Summers
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

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.

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003