Sometimes you go to a production that you have seen many times before, and thus know what to expect. One such ballet is MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, which is packed with action and drama, and always offers a good night out. Of course the success of the show falls on the leading characters as to whether they can convince with their dancing, acting and dramatic input, and indeed, there have been many remarkable Romeos and Juliets seen over the years in this work. But the audience, fortunate enough to get a prized ticket for Saturday night’s performance at the Royal Opera House can lay claim to having been present to witness two great interpreters of these roles.
Natalia Osipova is a wonder! She’s a sublime ballerina from the tips of her eyelashes to the pointing of her toes and in her every movement – floating, flowing and posing, even in stillness. She brought Juliet’s character to life with such detailed thought and nuance that the whole auditorium, even those way up in the gods, could feel her every mood and action. She is a born Juliet, so completely involved in the story that she lives every moment, imbibing the spirit of the young heroine from the ballet’s opening moments to its closing – and even into the curtain calls where her cheeks evidenced the real tears she had shed on finding Romeo dead in the tomb.
Osipova proved utterly convincing in all her scenes: first, her childish play with her Nurse and her urge to hide in the folds of the Nurse’s voluminous skirt whenever she felt shy or fearful; the great feeling of pain when the Nurse, in obeying her master, had to reject her charge’s pleas for help; her wonder and fascination at first seeing Romeo, her eyes never leaving him, even when playing the mandolin for her friends; an unexpected, spectacular and exuberant leap off the bottom four steps when she ran down from the balcony to meet her love in the garden; and the utter beauty of her dancing there, when she moved so swiftly, smoothly and effortlessly across the floor that it looked like the wind was rustling her clothes. In the bedroom pas de deux, her girlish, almost stroppy determination to keep Romeo from leaving resulted in being shaken by him until she realised she had to let him go. Her dejected, crumpled little figure was heart breaking. Of course there is that moment when she sits on the bed in absolute stillness, her body showing the pain she is going through, the feeling of being totally alone due to her father’s demands that she marry Paris, and then her expression changing as she sees a possible way out of her dilemma. Her urgent, yet elegant run to the priest, with billowing silk cloak, was reminiscent of the famed Galina Ulanova’s Juliet at the Bolshoi Theatre.
This ballet marks the 27-year-old Russian ballerina’s debut as a member of the Royal Ballet. Trained at the Bolshoi School, Osipova was soon plucked from the corps of the Bolshoi Ballet to become the darling of, first the Moscow audiences and then, the world. Her sudden departure with her partner, the fabulous Ivan Vasiliev, to the Mikhailovsky Ballet in St Petersburg shocked and puzzled the ballet world. But this move, not only offered them top billing in all the Mikhailovsky productions, but also a free rein to travel and accept the many invitations pouring in from top companies around the world, including the title of guest artist with American Ballet Theatre. Since November, London has claimed her – much to our delight – and what a coup! Acclaimed for her dynamic energetic expressive dancing, seen on earlier tours here to the UK with both the Bolshoi Ballet and Mikhailovsky Ballet, she has defied the stern critics who, before her arrival, announced that her flamboyant Russian technique wouldn’t fit into the more refined, pure English style. Here in MacMillan’s beloved Romeo and Juliet, she proved herself in an electrifying performance – just imagine what Kenneth MacMillan would be creating for her had he still been alive.
Dancing her Romeo was the charismatic Cuban ballet superstar Carlos Acosta, the number one box office draw. He is no newcomer to this version of the ballet and has always been thrilling to watch. Over the years he has carved out a clear understanding of Romeo’s character and, though now in the twilight of his stage performing years – he is 40 years old – and not leaping as high as in earlier years, he still fills the stage with artistic content and endearing compelling presence. With Osipova – and a shorter haircut – he looked and danced ten years younger, pouring forth emotions of ardour, gentleness, anger and despair. Above all, he was the most attentive partner both technically and dramatically. They made a glorious couple to watch.
The outstanding success of the performance was also due to the whole company, which danced with fervour, enthusiasm and enjoyment, and especially to other artists. Gary Avis, was a menacing and commanding Tybalt, ready to intimidate the local Montagues and to protect his family, especially his sister; Ricardo Cervera danced Mercutio with fun and slickness; and David Trzensimiech, as Benvolio, showed off some elegant leaps. The Royal Opera House orchestra, conducted by Barry Wordsworth, rounded off the evening’s pleasure.