Romeo and Juliet, Royal Opera House, London

Sometimes, you can have it all

Nadine Meisner
Tuesday 25 February 2014 03:48
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With so many Royal Ballet Romeos and Juliets loving and dying over the years, it takes performers of really special fibre to lift these characters out of mere routine. Some try very hard; some manage to find scope for individual touches, and come across as sensitive and convincing. But do they make their portrayal leap out with fresh vividness?

No. Until, that is, Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg. As a critic, I have seen too many MacMillan Romeo and Juliets ever to be drawn totally into the stage's realm. But this time, while Cojocaru and Kobborg held the audience in a hush, I was there too, as if seeing the ballet for the first time. They trembled, floated with joy, raged at fate – and so did I. They brought new graphic details that, rather than adding to the production's general fussiness, illuminated each moment with trenchant narrative logic. Their creamy perfection of technique allowed them to plunge into the dancing with emotional abandon, yet hold the contours of the movement with elegant clarity. Form and expression existed in absolute equilibrium.

Consequently, the imagery of the pas de deux became more immediate. The soaring overhead lifts in the balcony scene seemed to be Juliet's spirit flying with elation. Her spiralling embraces after their wedding night screamed the turmoil of their passion. And when in the crypt he lugged her body about, the shapes seemed more than ever to recall, gruesomely, their first joyous pas de deux, and you felt his hopelessness, his exhaustion, his anger.

Caught up, you could forget that you would rather Barry Wordsworth conducted Prokofiev with bolder sonorities. You could, also, overlook the fact that the surrounding performances lacked colour and gestural weight. Comparing the various casts, William Tuckett best summoned Tybalt's murky charisma. But since when was the Prince of Verona such a lightweight? Since when was Capulet so devoid of paternal gravitas? As for Mercutio, where was the finesse and glamour? Only Martin Harvey summoned some wit in his final duel.

Those shortcomings were especially evident in the first two casts. Darcey Bussell is not a natural Juliet, even though her dancing has a miraculous refinement. It's not that she doesn't try with her acting, but emotional extremes elude her. The tepid effect was accentuated by her partner, Roberto Bolle, who looks fabulous and moves elegantly, but doesn't project personality. Another guest Romeo, Massimo Murru – unannounced by Covent Garden – looked in the same Bolle mould at first, but grew more intense. His Juliet, Tamara Rojo was the opposite, more wonderful in her heartfelt narrative than her dancing. You can't have it all – unless you're Cojocaru and Kobborg.

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