Celebrating its 50th anniversary, Kenneth MacMillan’s first big ballet is not just a hardy perennial but a drop-dead classic. I suspect the current incarnation will improve as certain elements bed in during the run.
With eight partnerships in total, it was up to Steven McRae and Sarah Lamb to carry the honours of the opening night as the lovers. Individually, they acquit themselves well, even if Romeo appears to be younger than Juliet. Lamb gives a performance of sequestered adolescence; she is never quite innocent, more a young woman straining to be liberated from the chains of controlling parents.
Their three principal pas de deux were full of aching tenderness and deliciously arcing grace; I have rarely seen the balcony scene danced better. But there is something lacking. Both are fine dancers, yet they fail to generate the heat that some partnerships have achieved in previous productions. McRae’s decision to play Romeo as utterly wet and a weed stalls their tumultuous passion and dissipates the tragedy. This imbalance allows Alexander Campbell to shine; his Mercutio is less of a flamboyant clown and more of a tragic figure-in-waiting.
Some losses, then. But among the gains are the spectacular duels – the swordplay throughout is astonishing and the ghosts of Flynn and Rathbone must have been smiling.
The combination of a superb ensemble (loved the trio of saucy harlots and the Mandolin Dance) and the marginal details – a harlot being beaten up by two townswomen, the tussle over a bridal bouquet – was not quite matched by the orchestra’s account of Prokofiev’s mighty score; some stridency in the horn and woodwind sections will doubtless be ironed out by conductor Koen Koessels very quickly.