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Romeo and Nikiya? Not a new ballet, nor yet your critic slipping a cog. Rather, a tribute to two exceptional Royal Ballet debuts as this week began at Covent Garden.

In watching Zenaida Yanowsky, I am constantly fascinated by the intelligence of her interpretations, by her communicative grace, and how she shapes choreography with real felicity. Her debut on Monday as Nikiya in La Bayadère was a rewarding display of her gifts. She sees that Nikiya is a young woman passionately in love with Solor. From this premise, everything else must spring: her rejection of the Chief Brahmin; the joy of her meeting with Solor; even her simplicity when meeting Gamzatti, and the fury of her attack on her rival with a dagger, and her terrified remorse. Thus, too, the emotional uncertainties of her dance at Solor’s betrothal, and the spectral radiance of her dancing as a Shade.

All this Yanowsky knows, and shows to us with a grand distinction of means. Impeccable sensitivity in playing; beautifully shaped academic dancing – a role understood, alive, enhanced. Mes hommages.

And then, on the next evening, Steven McRae making an unexpected debut as Romeo, replacing the injured Johan Kobborg as partner to Alina Cojocaru. McRae we have seen over the past few years burning bright, his dancing marked by a mercurial speed and brilliancy. This first Romeo runs counter to much one might have expected. Here is no Veronese roaring boy. Instead, and how sensitive this proved, his Romeo is younger, quieter than most in the early scenes, and then, when the fuse of his passion for Juliet is lit, burning with an inner fire that lights every step.

McRae’s restraint in this is vastly effective in shaping Romeo’s character, and the role gains its power from dancing selfless in its respect for the choreography. Here was a style that matched Cojocaru’s exquisite means, and here was a partner sensitive, responsive to every demand. A brief and admiring mention, too, for Bennet Gartside’s darkly menacing Tybalt, and for the happy restoration of the Georgiadis designs.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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