Romeo and Juliet, Royal Opera House, London – review

Not quite what one might have hoped. Natalya Osipova’s debut as Juliet with the Royal Ballet was eagerly anticipated: here is an artist prodigious in technique, vivid in dramatic sensibilities, who has illuminated every role that I have seen her dance. And yet on Thursday night she seemed isolated at moments from the staging.

This was, I sense, in part owed to an unlikely relationship with Carlos Acosta’s Romeo. Osipova’s pairing with Acosta brings her a secure partner, but also a dancer whose account of his role is now underpowered in both means and manner: I did not for a moment believe in him as a youth ardently in love. Experienced in negotiating the role, of course – but impetuous, flaring with desire? Not so!

Osipova’s Juliet is touched with grandest moments of passion, and is danced with a driving urgency – the run to Friar Lawrence as thrilling as Ulanova’s; the great sweep of the balcony scene a single long phrase of youthful emotion. But what I once saw with Lynn Seymour (and saw with Natalya Makarova, and then ravishingly saw again last week with Yevgenia Obraztsova in the arms of Steven McRae) was the role trusted, where Osipova seeks at moments to mark it as her own – regrettably, in her decision to show a knowing Juliet, aware of what the Nurse tells her about burgeoning femininity at the end of her first scene.

Of course, any ballerina worth her title will make her imprint, and tiny incidents where the character seemed to speak (Osipova’s sudden look at Paris’s hand on her shoulder) were characteristically penetrating, true. But I sensed a performance rather than a character: dance tremendous in outline, yet not revealing Juliet’s soul. I saw a lesson well learnt but not fully understood.

For the rest: a laboured account of the score, lacking urgency; the best Escalus I have ever seen – noble, commanding – from Bennet Gartside, who had the week before been a magnificent Friar Laurence; Valery Hristov a vivid Paris, and not the usual sofa pushed about by the drama; Elizabeth McGorian the ideal Lady Capulet; Gary Avis a dominating, angry, fine Tybalt. Grand talents.

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