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Romeo and Juliet, Royal Opera House, London

Zoë Anderson
Thursday 14 January 2010 01:00 GMT

Casting, casting. The Royal Ballet's revival of Romeo and Juliet opened with a switch of leading dancers. With Carlos Acosta injured, Tamara Rojo's ardent Juliet was partnered by Rupert Pennefather. They don't quite make a pair. Juliet is one of Rojo's best roles, but on this evidence, Romeo isn't Pennefather's.

Pennefather has plenty of strong points. A tall dancer with good line and an easy, unfussy style, he's a devoted, chivalrous partner. But MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet isn't a courtly ballet. His Romeo is a headlong adolescent, brawling and falling furiously in love. Pennefather dances the role seriously, adoring Rojo's fiery Juliet. But though he finds good moments within the story, he lacks momentum and fire.

In the ballroom scene, he interrupts a group dance with his own solo: catching Juliet's eye, showing off. Pennefather goes smoothly through the steps, with a fine arabesque finish to his turns. He directs it all to Juliet, without making the dance sexually assertive.

Rojo has no such reticence. From the first, she's an eager, headstrong heroine, pouncing on her nurse in childish games. When her parents come in for a grown-up talk, suggesting marriage to Paris, Rojo surreptitiously dumps her doll in her nurse's arms. She's naive, but already used to working around her family.

Her dancing has a light scamper, spontaneous and bright. This Juliet will rush into her next idea, grabbing the next moment without much thought for the consequences. She sprints into Friar Laurence's cell, then falters when she can't immediately see him. She doesn't plan; she has no fall-back positions.

In her tomb scene, Rojo is desperately young. When Juliet realises Romeo is dead, MacMillan gives her a huge reaction: a silent scream, a big sweep of the arms. Rojo pounds her fists on her thighs in an outpouring of grief that isn't far from an adolescent tantrum. Her lover is dead, and that's just not fair. The revival is in good shape. MacMillan's big crowd scenes can easily sag; but here, even the marketplace scenes are brisk and lively.

Since the ballet's creation in 1965, designer Nicholas Georgiadis made several revisions to his designs. Recent revivals have brought back more of his first thoughts. It's wonderful to see his 1960s angels looming over the tomb scene, with stark faces and clenched fists.

In repertory to 16 March (020 7304 4000)

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