The thighs have it
Sold on the glamour and box office appeal of Bolshoi barnstormers Ivan Vasiliev and Natalia Osipova, Sir Frederick Ashton’s neglected Romeo and Juliet at London’s Coliseum sadly didn’t live up to the hype.
It’s quickly apparent why Ashton didn’t want his take on Shakespeare’s tragic tale to be performed by The Royal Ballet. Created for the Royal Danish Ballet in 1955 it’s too small for large auditoriums such as the Coliseum – the Dance of the Knights is, for the most part, the Dance of the Knight – and the pure classicality of the choreography appeared lightweight against the great thump of Prokofiev’s score.
Vasiliev too seemed at odds with the choreography, constrained by its precision. Shorn of his floppy locks he also lacked the confident swagger that made such an impression at Covent Garden last year. He threw in a few gaspworthy leaps but they were crowbarred in, a lacklustre shot at giving the audience what they’d paid for.
Despite some hurried footwork and a hammy sense of acting, Osipova fared better. Blessed with exquisite balance and limbs that shoot forever onwards she allowed her character’s turmoil to sweep gorgeously through her body in the emotional swell of her suicidal dilemma. Elsewhere she looked unsure as to what might happen next and she never really got to grips with Juliet’s development from young girl to adult.
That said, the Balcony and Bedroom pas de deuxs that our two stars shared were lovely; Vasiliev’s physical strength and presence was brought to the fore with stamina-draining lifts that allowed Osipova to float angelically across the stage. Never has a sustained spell of hopping looked so heavenly.
Alongside an impressive Alban Lendorf from the Royal Danish Ballet (an ever-present on this current run) there was a smattering of special guests for this gala performance. Wayne Eagling strode majesterially about as the Prince of Verona, Marguerite Porter’s Lady Capulet did her best to console her offspring and Wayne Sleep gamely tried to steal the show as a pirouetting Peter the Page.
In truth, neither the roles or Ashton really suited Vasiliev and Osipova and, pas de deuxs aside, the production looked under-rehearsed. Also, the multi-plex cinema-style staging was awful. There will surely be better vehicles for them to display their extraordinary talents in the future. But in the same way that this run of 9 shows in 7 days is surely too many, let’s hope they don’t burn themselves out by doing too much too quickly.