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

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
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.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living