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).

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury


Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas


Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7


Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary


Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions