When it was announced in April that Natalia Osipova would be joining the Royal, there was a flurry of concern that the former Bolshoi ballerina might prove little more than a starry guest. All doubts, however, have been scotched by her debut performance as Juliet – as committed an engagement with the MacMillan ballet as that of any homegrown artist.
While Osipova's first scene might strain towards babydoll cuteness, the character's tragedy is subsequently inscribed in the very guts of her dancing. From the ball scene onwards, she makes us feel the extreme precariousness of Juliet's youth, both in the dreamy, defenceless way she lifts her face to drink in the excitement and in the hungry fascination with which she reaches out to touch the beautiful stranger, Romeo.
Osipova's dancing is fabulous, but the height of her jump and the powerful pliancy of her back never call undue attention to themselves. Her dancing is phrased entirely to serve the churning, delirious currents of Juliet's emotions and the drama of Prokofiev's music.
Most exceptional is Osipova's ability to fuse classical technique and realism, to be ballerina and human simultaneously. The flicker of an ordinary teenager's walk passes through her dancing, the unconscious clench of a fist. And I've never been so convinced by Juliet's death scene. Osipova has so fully imagined its excruciating pain and effort, that as she hauls herself on to the tomb you sense the scrapings of dirt under her fingernails.
The performance has a catalytic effect on the rest of the stage. Carlos Acosta rises to a passionately responsive Romeo, with one unexpected highlight being the duel with Tybalt, which seems fuelled less by factional rage than the agony of his love for Juliet. And what a Tybalt Gary Avis is: a rottweiler in defence of Capulet family pride and a brutal embodiment of blood lust. In the aftermath of Mercutio's death, as Tybalt wipes his sword clean on his sleeve, the gloating repugnance of the action makes you shiver.
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