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

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

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nicola Sturgeon could have considerable influence over David Cameron in a hung parliament  

General Election 2015: What if Cameron were to end up in hock to the SNP?

Steve Richards
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before