June 19, 2011 8:18 pm

Romeo and Juliet, The 02, London

It is an amazing sight. The functional vastness of the O2 auditorium; serried banks of seats, vertiginously raked on three sides of this arena; thousands of spectators; and the Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet on Friday night as the company began a fascinating engagement. And, in these days when ballet troupes must capture a fresh and untapped audience, here is an event that offers every incentive for enjoyment and baptismal enthusiasm.

Be it said at once that the public seemed delighted by the performance. This is, inevitably, owed to one of the keys to this presentation: three large screens above the stage, which show the ballet, in views both intimately close and broadly panoramic, as recorded by cameras placed in the middle of the parterre, the action captured with sensitive understanding: a distant spectacle suddenly telly-close for telly-conditioned viewers.

For this, and for filmed interludes that preceded scene changes, we are indebted to Michael Nunn and William Trevitt. They know the text from their years with the company; they know the power of film from their years as the Ballet Boyz; they are sensitive guides. So, too, the strong and well-amplified orchestral playing from the Royal Philharmonic under Barry Wordsworth.

The resultant spectacle reveals much admirable detail in the Royal Ballet’s performance and clearly engages the audience’s attention.

For anyone unfamiliar with the O2, I record that the building encircles its auditorium with restaurants, loos and walkways, and it scares the daylights out of me: it is too monolithic for comfort of spirit or body. The arena is bleak but steeply raked seating offers a clear view of performance and the Royal Ballet has done admirably well in presenting Romeo to a new and, we hope, newly enthused arena public.

The choreography has been generously spaced on the broad expanse of the O2 stage, and is played in two acts, the break coming after the balcony duet, while the Georgiadis set is reduced to arched colonnades and flights of stairs, dramatically effective and well lit.

After four decades of watching this ballet, I found the event both fascinating and illuminating. Interpretations were well judged: Tamara Rojo wholly communicative as Juliet, with Carlos Acosta her Romeo and Thiago Soares a tremendous Tybalt, and with the company on very best form. It works. It works very well indeed.

www.theo2.co.uk

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