March 11, 2012 3:41 pm

Romeo and Juliet, Royal Opera House, London

This was a serious and touching account of MacMillan’s prodigious ballet

It was Chaps’ Night in Verona. Here was a performance of Romeo and Juliet dominated by its male dancers: Steven McRae as Romeo, Bennet Gartside as Tybalt; Gary Avis as Capulet, James Hay as Mercutio, Thomas Whitehead as Paris. It is a fascination of current performances at Covent Garden, that artists such as these, and such other astounders as Edward Watson, Johann Kobborg, Thiago Soares, so fire the repertory. (The defecting Sergei Polunin, now given to laddish comments, is a tragic loss.)

The women seemed but thinly present at this performance. Roberta Marquez’s view of Juliet is decent, conscientious and, watching her, I recalled the sexual bloom, the meltingly beautiful outlines of the dance, that Lynn Seymour brought to her creation, and her searing inevitability at every moment. (Absolute isolation as she sat on the bed; the grand impulse of her run to Friar Lawrence – sublimest art.)

McRae holds the dance, as it were, in the palm of his hand, with impeccable shaping of the choreography. There are tiny feats of bravura (Romeo spinning vertiginously round the Nurse as he takes the letter); small dramatic truths (a dismissive kiss to the harlot as he returns from his wedding); an ever-present ardour; and, at the last, a huge despair as he kills himself. The role is vividly true. With Bennet Gartside’s Tybalt, we have a character re-thought, enhanced. In everything this fine artist does, we see choreography respected, and emotional possibilities explored. His gaoler in Manon is stunning, as is his playing of Bottom in The Dream. In plotless works, he guards the choreography with his life. This Tybalt, proud, menacing, contained in manner, is, I think, the most impressive I have seen.

With Gary Avis, as always, a role is enriched, a stage made alive. And from James Hay, a Benvolio clear and bright in step as in presence. I was impressed by Thomas Whitehead as Paris. With some interpreters the words “plaster of” should precede the name; Whitehead gives him dimensions, a natural dignity. And so we saw, fortunate us, a serious and touching account – Dear Heaven! the 444th on this stage – of MacMillan’s prodigious ballet. To these artists, much gratitude.

4 stars

www.roh.org.uk

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