Carlos Acosta has taken his time with Romeo. Kenneth MacMillan's production is one of the Royal Ballet's great warhorses, often the first British choreography danced by guest artists. Acosta, who has appeared regularly with the company since 1998, danced his first Romeo on Friday. At once, it became one of his best roles.
Acosta, Cuban-born and trained, is a sunny performer with remarkable technique. He takes easily to the stage, easily to dancing, but soberly to drama: his carefully worked-out acting can look conscientious. In Romeo, he throws himself into the dancing, and suddenly the drama takes care of itself. By pouring out steps, Acosta shows us Romeo's heart.
In the balcony scene, Romeo dances to Juliet and then with her, a dizzy series of turns and jumps that leads straight into the lifts and embraces of the duet. Acosta's dancing is ardent and clear, soaring on the music, his body stretched exultantly in the air. The naturalistic gestures come simply, with no sense of effort. He watches Tamara Rojo's Juliet, addressing his solos to her, and keeps that focus to the end. In the tomb scene, he drags and cradles her corpse as if he doesn't realise that she's dead.
Acosta's Romeo lives in his dancing. Rojo is, first and foremost, a dramatic performer. In her 19th-century roles, she tends to lay on the grandeur with a heavy hand; in MacMillan, she's at her most spontaneous. She's an alert Juliet, quick to think and plan. Having met Romeo at the Capulet ball, hoping to meet him again, she rushes her Nurse out of the way - so quickly, in fact, that she scampers to avoid treading on the other woman's trailing skirts. It's a scamper that carries Rojo right back into the room, hopeful and expectant.
Juliet dominates MacMillan's last act: confronting her family, taking the potion. Rojo tends to isolate those scenes, rather than building them into an arc. But she makes vivid points along the way. Pretending to accept David Pickering's Paris, she dances with drooping limbs, but her bowed head still looks rebellious. She skims over the nervy pointe work of the potion scene, going straight for the naturalistic gulp and painful collapse.
There was a strong cast around these lovers. José Martin's Mercutio is sharp and lively, feet pointedly neat as he teases guests at the Capulet ball. As Benvolio, Yohei Sasaki is unexpectedly sinuous: he's squarely built, but the sidling, angled steps come through strongly. Good as they are, Acosta, Martin and Sasaki aren't ideally matched as lads about town. Martin's short neck and broad shoulders make him a character Mercutio, set against the more classical Acosta. Thiago Soares is a fierce Tybalt, with an angry length to his stride.
Mikhail Agrest conducted a sturdy account of Prokofiev's score, stronger on feuds and discords than on lyricism. Agrest could give the ballet more forward drive. Prokofiev wrote long market scenes, giving choreographers the task of filling up space. MacMillan does it by inventing three harlots, here led by Laura Morera, who has a light jump and an eye for mischief. As Escalus, prince of Verona, Gary Avis sweeps on with real authority.
The company is on good form. Juliet's friends dance crisply, upper bodies sweetly angled. The choreography is dull in the second-act market dances, but the corps give them plenty of light and shade. The early fight scenes, with their click-click swordplay and mourning women, need more pace.
Romeo and Juliet is a large-scale production, with its massive Prokofiev score, market and ball scenes. Nicholas Georgiadis's sets and costumes are handsomely monumental, with dappled marble colours and a Byzantine cell for Friar Laurence. Georgiadis made several revisions to the 1965 production - including, alas, removing the parapet from Juliet's balcony - but it's still a grand spectacle.
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