Dance Reviews: Wherefore art thou, Juliet? At Hammersmith, Romeo

Romeo and Juliet, Royal Ballet

Labatt's Apollo, Hammersmith, London

I would go a lot further than Hammersmith to see Sylvie Guillem's Juliet and so (judging by the response) would 3,500 other people. Unhappily for Anthony Dowell and the Royal Ballet's beleaguered management, Mlle Guillem is not dancing every night - hence yesterday's unsurprising news that the company's season at Labatt's Apollo is some way short of its (pragmatically low) target. More depressing still was the rumour that at the beginning of the summer a mere 9,000 advance tickets (barely three houses) had been sold to regular subscribers.

But things are improving, apparently, and the administrative director, Anthony Russell Roberts, is confident that bookings will pick up. If they don't, he may find himself wishing they had spent some of the pounds 1.5m refit boxing off the back of the circle. One strategy might have been to formulate a more aggressive pricing structure: with lots of seats at a fiver they could have made the same money and built an audience for the longer term. As things stand, they may be obliged to discount tickets for less popular performances or face the nasty acoustic you get when a 75-piece orchestra bounces off empty plush seats. The only good thing about such a dauntingly large theatre is the blast of appreciative noise it can make when filled to capacity and Sylvie Guillem deserved every decibel.

Guillem first danced the role in 1990 and her interpretation grows more assured and moving with each performance. The key to her dramatic success is the extreme naturalism of her mime: she shrugs and pouts like a real teenager. When Paris tries to kiss the hem of her dress she twitches her skirt away as if to say "Don't be daft" and this gaucherie only leaves her when her girlhood is kicked into touch by the sudden sight of Romeo. From that point, Guillem's whole body sings with happiness and she hurls herself into Kenneth MacMillan's acrobatic love duets with grand abandonment. Guillem's ecstatic naturalism is made possible only by the splendid excesses of her physique. In the balcony scene her unusually flexible spine enables her to arch her chest against Romeo's kiss with an urgent sensuality. She was well-served by Jonathan Cope and her eyes never left his face. He watched her closely too - but for different reasons. Romeo's expressiveness can be hampered by the need to anticipate his ballerina's every move but Cope is never more ardent and convincing than when partnering Guillem. The Kirov's superlative Victor Fedotov served Guillem and Prokofiev with equal fidelity.

Offstage there were a number of teething troubles. The "ushing" was decidedly below standard. The Apollo are used to treating large numbers of people like cattle. Ballet audiences don't like this one bit. Princess Margaret was no help. It was game of her to schlep out to Hammersmith (although the number 9 from South Ken isn't a bad journey for her, really) but the Apollo were caught on the hop by the long-established protocol that royalty must be allowed to get to the bar first. At the end, perhaps they would have been better off giving her the rock star treatment: "Princess Margaret has definitely left the building".

Labatt's Apollo, to 4 Oct (0171 304 4000).

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