Romeo & Juliet, London Coliseum
Thursday 14 July 2011
This Romeo is all over the place. On the one hand, it stars the Bolshoi's magnificent Ivan Vasiliev and Natalia Osipova – charisma to their fingertips, his lithe warmth to her fizzing attack. On the other, this is a production where designs, performance styles and even venue haven't been introduced to each other.
Frederick Ashton's Romeo & Juliet was created for the Royal Danish Ballet in 1955. A year later, the Bolshoi Ballet made its stupendous Western debut with Leonid Lavrovsky's Romeo, whose scale and grandeur set the tone for most later versions. Fearful of comparisons, Ashton avoided bringing his smaller, gentler Romeo to Britain for years.
This revival is by Peter Schaufuss, son of Ashton's original Juliet and Mercutio. He's staged it with his own company, known for splashy original productions. Last year, Schaufuss toured a cut-down chamber version of Romeo to smaller Danish venues. Weirdly, this seems to be what he has brought to the vast London Coliseum.
It's a ghost-town Verona, barely inhabited by a tiny corps de ballet. Peter Rice's original costume designs are soft and straightforward, though poor Tybalt ends up as Draco Malfoy in laddered tights. Luciano Melini's new set is a blank space with neon sidelights and projected photographs, clashing with the rest of the ballet.
Many of Schaufuss's dancers struggle with the intricate footwork and brisk mime scenes – and that's before Vasiliev and Osipova appear, creatures from a different dancing planet. Vasiliev's Romeo is a dreamy innocent who dances with big-cat power, his sturdy legs lifting him into the air with impossible, floating ease.
Osipova's Juliet starts out as a hyper teenager, whirling on brilliantly fast feet. There's an immediate abandon to her dancing, movement sweeping through her small frame. As an actress, she doesn't always find the balance between this delicate choreography and her own huge personality.
Both Bolshoi stars eagerly address the challenge of a new style, but their glorious energy can feel hemmed in by it. You don't get the tidal-wave triumph of their home performances, though they're still mesmerising. The Royal Danish Ballet's Alban Lendorf is an elegant, fleet-footed Mercutio.
For the gala opening, Schaufuss brought in Royal Ballet stars of the 1970s to fill supporting roles, with the unnerving sight of Wayne Sleep as a pageboy.
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