Romeo and Juliet review – stunningly swoonsome study of wide-eyed love

Royal Opera House, London
Lauren Cuthbertson and Matthew Ball sumptuously express the recklessness of youth in Kenneth MacMillan’s fine ballet

We think of Romeo and Juliet as a story about love, but really it’s about death. Ten minutes into Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet there’s already a pile of bodies on the stage, but despite the brutality, we are shown that life can be transcendent.

Numerous dancers make their debuts in the leading roles this season but for opening night, Lauren Cuthbertson is a masterful Juliet, partnered by the young principal Matthew Ball, fresh from a dangerously charismatic turn as the Stranger in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. There’s a decade between the two, but they are totally convincing and it is a production and partnership with some real highs.

This Juliet is a mere child, flinging herself into grand jetés with the unselfconsciousness of a girl not yet taught to be demure. Ball’s Romeo is one of the lads, caught up in exceptional circumstances. When the pair meet, their reactions are spontaneous. At one point Ball goes as if to kiss Cuthbertson’s neck and she laughs, caught off-guard. When he lifts her above his head she looks surprised to find herself there, amazed by these heights she hasn’t felt before. And that first kiss, wow. Seriously swoonsome.

Ball’s partnering is strong (there has to be much trust when you’re tossing Juliet’s limp body in the air), even if there’s still a little to finesse in the details of his dancing. Where Ball’s emotions come layered on top of his movement, Cuthbertson’s are expressed within. It helps that MacMillan builds so much character into the choreography – such as Juliet’s tiny, shy bourrées as she slips out of Paris’s grasp.

Dance of death … Romeo and Juliet.
Dance of death … Romeo and Juliet. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/Guardian

Prokofiev’s rich and stirring score is one of ballet’s greats, the choreography in conversation with its intricate rhythms as well as sweeping drama. Sometimes MacMillan leaves the music to speak: for the first four bars of the balcony scene the young lovers simply stand staring at each other; or there is Juliet sitting alone, frozen on her bed, as she searches her mind for a way out.

Nicholas Georgiadis’s designs are as sumptuous and painterly as ever. There’s a good supporting cast: Gary Avis plays Tybalt drunk on his own self-importance; Valentino Zucchetti’s Mercutio has an impressively nonchalant way with a sword. This is a youthful, passionate, enthralling Romeo and Juliet.

Contributor

Lyndsey Winship

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Les Patineurs / Winter Dreams / The Concert review – festive cheer and tears at the Royal Ballet
A fine take on Chekhov’s melancholy Three Sisters brings bite to this seasonal triple bill, before ice skaters and lovers restore the yuletide glow

Lyndsey Winship

19, Dec, 2018 @2:44 PM

Article image
The Judas Tree/Song of the Earth review – from torrid violence to delicate majesty
A five-company tribute to Kenneth MacMillan continues with brave and brilliant stagings of two very different works

Judith Mackrell

25, Oct, 2017 @4:45 PM

Article image
Royal Ballet mixed bill review – a trio of 60s flashbacks
Lauren Cuthbertson and Reece Clarke’s masterclass in clarity is the highlight in a night of Macmillan, Ashton and Petipa

Lyndsey Winship

23, Oct, 2019 @10:38 AM

Article image
Beauties, beasts and a midlife crisis for Romeo and Juliet: 2018's top dance
Northern Ballet’s Jane Eyre will make your heart leap, Pina Bausch’s Roman dream returns to London and the Royal Ballet salute Macmillan and Bernstein

Judith Mackrell

03, Jan, 2018 @7:00 AM

Judith Mackrell on Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet
Choreographer Kenneth MacMillan - the man who danced with darkness - left a lasting legacy on the acting style of the Royal Ballet

Judith Mackrell

06, Jan, 2010 @10:30 PM

Article image
Romeo and Juliet review – star-cross'd magic from Matthew Ball and Lauren Cuthbertson
The principals lead an emotionally charged reprise of Royal Ballet’s old faithful

Sarah Crompton

31, Mar, 2019 @7:00 AM

Article image
Kenneth MacMillan: A National Celebration review – sublime, slinky salute to the master
All five of the UK’s leading classical companies collaborate for the first time in a heartfelt celebration of the choreographer who changed the course of ballet

Judith Mackrell

19, Oct, 2017 @4:00 PM

Article image
Mayerling review – sex, drugs and revolution in the Royal Ballet's superb staging
Edward Watson finds sympathy for the doomed prince while Sarah Lamb gives one of the performances of her career in MacMillan’s unsparingly brutal ballet

Judith Mackrell

01, May, 2017 @11:21 AM

Article image
Anastasia review – Natalia Osipova offers sensitive glimpses of a soul in hell
It’s hard to know why the Royal Ballet have revived Kenneth MacMillan’s flawed study of madness, but Osipova’s magnificent performance makes it worthwhile

Judith Mackrell

27, Oct, 2016 @11:28 AM

Article image
The Cellist review – a joyfully giddy tribute to Jacqueline du Pré
Cathy Marston’s first main stage commission for the Royal Ballet translates Du Pré’s lyrical presence on the podium into dance, capturing her deep love affair with music

Lyndsey Winship

18, Feb, 2020 @12:35 PM