The Royal Ballet, O2 Arena, London

Two houses, both alike in dignity...first Covent Garden and now the 02

It isn't the surround-sound munching or the comings and goings with beer.

It isn't the presence of entire families, including the odd babe in arms. It's the distance that keeps reminding you where you are. The seats furthest from the stage in the O2 arena are three football pitches from the action. Even from the "best" spots, where they had put the ballet critics, naturally, the performers are so tiny that your gaze repeatedly flicks to the three screens showing close-ups, and eventually stays there for the duration. If there is a loser in the Royal Ballet's first major foray outside the Royal Opera House, it is liveness. The winner, surprisingly, is Prokofiev.

Posted into a letterbox-shaped hole in the wall above the stage, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – under the Royal Ballet's excellent Barry Wordsworth – delivers the 20th century's greatest ballet score with a sonorous expansiveness that penetrates bone. It's amplified, of course (a no-no at Covent Garden), the lower voices given extra welly, as in a rock gig. Those massed trombones have never sounded more accusatory or more terrifying in the final scene in the crypt.

Officially, the stage the RB erected at one end of the giant oval is identical in size to Covent Garden's, but it seemed much bigger. Never before has Juliet had to run a half-marathon to reach Friar Lawrence's cell, or crawl so agonisingly far to die by her Romeo's side. There were benefits, too: Romeo's barrelling leaps in the balcony scene could really let rip with elation. And all that charging about in Verona's town square by the locals had a fresh-air freedom that wasn't forced.

Acting-wise, the stars faced a dilemma. Do you big up the gestures to match the space? Or do you go super-subtle, knowing that your face is being magnified on a 20ft-high screen? Carlos Acosta and Tamara Rojo chose stripped-down and streamlined, and it worked. Their one-on-one scenes – the balcony, the bedroom – were as potent as ever they've been, the sound of 12,000 people holding their breath proof of that. Only afterwards could you tell the effort it had cost. Both stars looked wrung out at their single curtain call. (There being no curtain anyway, they kept it short.)

But for all its supposed familiarity, the story suffers. Much of the narrative action happens in mid-focus scenes where key business is transacted among a throng: think of the illicit locking of eyes at the Capulet ball, Juliet's nurse delivering her letter to Romeo on the crowded piazza, the dangerous street games of cat and mouse that erupt into fatal gang war when one side goes a taunt too far. Artfully prepared video segments shown during scene-changes helped a bit (all credit to the BalletBoyz, Michael Nunn and William Trevitt). Live, the eye struggled to pick out who was doing what to whom in a crowd.

If the Royal Ballet is going to try this again (and it will, if ticket sales are the decider), it will have to re-think. Swan Lake would have semaphored its qualities better in the present set-up. Eventually, though, productions will have to be refigured for the demands of an arena – done in the round, the distance wouldn't be an issue. English National Ballet clocked this long ago, and it was odd that, in the mass of publicity preceding the Royal's O2 debut, no one asked Tamara Rojo about the time she danced Juliet for them in the Albert Hall 13 years ago, albeit in a less potent version.

For all its miscalculations of scale, the Royal serves Kenneth MacMillan's 1965 choreography superbly. Whether the choreographer's widow will ever allow it to be tampered with for in-the-round consumption is unsure. What's certain is that Kevin O'Hare, announced last week as the new artistic director of the company from July 2012, will already be planning how to capitalise on the vast new audience – in the tens of thousands – brought to ballet in the past two days.

Final performance at the O2 is at 3pm today (020-7536 2600)

Dance Choice

Turner Prize-winner Martin Creed is more familiar in the Visual Art slot, but his Work No 1020 uses music composed by Creed and played by his band, and is performed by five dancers restricted to using only the five core classical ballet positions, each ascribed a musical note. Inventive, intriguing and often funny. (Sadler's Wells, London, Tue).

Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

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

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

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.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project