Romeo, Juliet: wherefore art thou?

Related Topics
I ONCE watched a ballet critic sleep through Romeo and Juliet. Periodically, cues in Prokofiev's score would nudge him into consciousness for one of Kenneth MacMillan's sexy, acrobatic pas de deux, then he would slither back into slumber for the ensembles. With Rudolf Nureyev's 1977 production, danced in London last week by the English National Ballet, you find yourself doing the reverse. Nureyev's version was clearly designed to eliminate any long- ueurs, and the result is a ballet packed with incident. The crowd scenes show an understanding of the workaday hatreds that give rise to mob violence, as bravado and bad manners escalate to a punch-up. As in all of Nureyev's productions, the male roles are enhanced and expanded, and all of the minor characters are vividly drawn: Juliet's bawdy, bosomy nurse spends her leisure hours being felt up by page boys. The entire stage fizzes with life; but the whole concoction goes sadly flat when it should be at its most potent and stimulating. The lovers themselves never hold our interest. As a result, this was not Romeo and Juliet so much as Montague and Capulet, the real drama being played out in Ezio Frigerio's spare and stylish streets.

Nobody could accuse Maria Bjornson of being spare and stylish, and her designs for the Royal Ballet's Sleeping Beauty do not improve with acquaintance. The set is nice enough in its pretentious, cock-eyed way, but the fussy and attention-seeking costumes are almost uniformly hideous. Yet on Tuesday night Darcey Bussell took on the production - and won. Although she danced the lead at the glitzy world premiere in Washington last year, Bussell was denied the British premiere in November by a troublesome bone spur on her heel. Last week she finally got her chance to show London how she looked in the new production. For once, nobody was looking at the set.

Her debut as Aurora (in the old production) two years ago may have been a little shaky, but even then it was clear that this would prove her greatest role. She is now total mistress of the steps, and can make you gasp at the leisure with which those long, long legs describe every battement and developpe. This thrilling languor is born of the in- credible strength and stamina that enabled her to sail through Tuesday's three-act marathon without even breaking into a sweat. She acts too, taking proper care to be a different girl in each scene: the shy debutante who punctuates her solos with anxious backward glances at the King and Queen, the cool beauty in the vision scene, and the triumphant bride in the finale. As the music swelled for the Rose Adagio, the incessantly talkative old bat next to me ("Who is she? Is she anyone famous?") actually asked to borrow my opera glasses. Buy your own bloody binoculars, I wasn't going to miss a step.

Meanwhile at the Coliseum, the Kirov were dragging themselves into the 20th century with a sumptuous programme of works by Mikhail Fokine: Les Sylphides (1908), Scheherazade (1910), and The Firebird (1910). Although Sylphides has always been in the St Petersburg repertoire, the others are recent acquisitions, im- maculately staged for the company with help from Fokine's granddaughter. Sylphides can seem slightly po-faced and lugubrious in the wrong hands. Fortunately, dancers like Janna Ayupova evoke the ghosts of Pavlova and Karsavina with a lightness and fluency that transform the potentially bloodless ballet into a distillation of Romanticism. Nijinsky's ghost was clearly elsewhere on Wednesday night and Stanislav Balyaevsky was no match for Ayupova. It was a weak night for men all round, with Alexander Kurkov doing his beefy best as the Golden Slave who drives the lovely Zobeide to suicide in Scheherazade. But then who was watching him? Uliana Lopatkina, looking for all the world like Lana Turner in a turban, was showing us exactly what that bendy Kirov spine is capable of, as she curled her body into the sinuous shapes that so electrified Paris when the ballet premiered in 1910. Proust wrote that he had never seen anything so beautiful. And so sexy - this was the ballet that Boston tried to ban. The shock that greeted the early performances is hard to rekindle and many now regard it as unperformable. Still, even those who dismiss Scheherazade as a museum piece would be happy merely to gaze at Bakst's luscious evocation of a story-book harem while the Maryinsky orchestra played Rimsky-Korsakov. Eighty-five years on, the crowd was still going bananas.

'Fokine Triple Bill': Coliseum, WC2, 0171 632 8300, Mon & Tues (Altynai Asylmuratova will dance 'The Firebird' on Mon). 'Romeo and Juliet': Royal Festival Hall, SE1, 0171 960 4242, to Sat.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yvette Cooper campaigning in London at the launch of Labour’s women’s manifesto  

I want the Labour Party to lead a revolution in family support

Yvette Cooper
Liz Kendall  

Labour leadership contest: 'Moderniser' is just a vague and overused label

Steve Richards
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine