Stuttgart Ballet/Romeo and Juliet, Coliseum, London

A Romeo to die for, in the ballet that inspired our Ken

By Jenny Gilbert
Sunday 30 March 2008 02:00

The new spring dance season at the Coliseum is proving a valuable catch-up service. A fortnight ago it brought us New York City Ballet, not seen in London for 25 years. Now comes another heavyweight, absent for even longer, with a Romeo and Juliet that gives our version a run for its money.

So ubiquitous is the R&J created in 1965 by Kenneth MacMillan that many dance fans think it the only one. John Cranko's for Stuttgart Ballet pre-dates it by three years, and initially the comparison isn't flattering to MacMillan, in that a surprising number of elements seem to have been pinched. More crucial, though, is the way Cranko showed his friend the way in forging a narrative naturalism. Gone are the perfumed manners of the Bolshoi staging that both men saw in 1956. Cranko's lovers are proper teens, albeit generic ones, their story unfolding with the clarity and immediacy of a photo-romance.

There's true matesmanship, too, in the way Romeo and his chums lay their plans to gatecrash the Capulet party. And the play of illicit glances between the newly moon-struck couple as they dance formally with other guests – losing their cool every time their shoulders brush – is beautifully calibrated. That audacity reaches fever pitch when, as Paris kneels at Juliet's feet pressing an ardent cheek to her hand, Romeo stands outrageously close to her, their eyes locked.

That attention to detail makes the Verona street scenes crackle. Did Cranko cut some of Prokofiev's music here? If not, it feels like it, for just where Mac-Millan gets bogged down in apron-flapping peasants and skipping harlots, Cran-ko bowls the story along.

And yet I wouldn't swap. The Stuttgart balcony duet is more romance than erotic encounter. It keeps its clothes on, so to speak. And though the fights are brilliantly managed, I question the dramatic rightness of having Tybalt pierce Mercutio's chest by accident. The man has a bloodlust, after all. But transpose Stuttgart heartthrob Friedemann Vogel and his floppy-haired, colt-legged pals into MacMillan territory and I'll be first in line for a ticket. I've not seen such a well-matched trio of gorgeously accomplished hoodlums, ever.

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