“In Act III… she (Lamb) finally seems to break through the invisible wall between stage and audience.”
The Royal Ballet’s 2015/16 season opened on Saturday night with a performance of Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. A half-century old, the production stands amongst the finest in the world. The careful choreography hugs Prokofiev’s score, which uncannily depicts the star-crossed lovers’ story on its own. MacMillan’s production finds ways to carry the story with the music both emotionally and through the majestic pas de deux and sublime variations. It is this unmatched craftsmanship, however, that seems to prove a concrete wall for many dancers who tackle the title roles.
On opening night Steven McRae and Sarah Lamb danced the leading roles. McRae, in whom I can find no fault, is a dancer of the highest calibre – boasting a beautiful ballon and turns that float through the music. Alas, Lamb’s Juliet did not seem to share the same sentiments toward her Romeo – though she offered generous balances and displayed dazzling technique. She could also benefit from a greater use of her upper body to carry herself through the music. Their partnership in the romantic roles seemed to take its time to come together – something Romeo and Juliet cannot afford.
Admittedly, I was still blown away by Yasmine Naghdi’s (who performs once more for the general public on 3 October) portrayal, and entered the theatre hoping for an even greater Juliet from Lamb, a principal dancer. Regrettably, Lamb’s youthful characterisation seemed only to reach the orchestra pit as it screamed “acted” rather than “I am”. As her Juliet progressed it could have easily been mistaken that she felt identical emotions for Paris (Ryoichi Hirano) and Romeo.
In Act III, undeniably Juliet’s act, Lamb seemed more at home. Emotionally, her character seemed more thought through and her response to the music is clearer. Her distaste for Paris is finally clear and she finally seems to break through the invisible wall between stage and audience.
A task for any ballerina is the final pas de deux, in which Romeo dances with an apparently dead Juliet. A choreographic feat, I thought the pas de deux quite difficult to criticise fairly – I found myself focusing entirely on Lamb as she tried (successfully) not to tense her muscles in preparation for a jump, and then realised that I had missed McRae’s emotional distress.
Apart from the main couple, First Soloist Alexander Campbell and Soloist Tristan Dyer took on the roles of Romeo’s friends Mercutio and Benvolio respectively.
Notable between the trio (McRae, Campbell, Dyer) was their Masked Dance – in which they hit each note perfectly and was synchronised from the first jump to the final turn.
Gary Avis acted superbly as Juliet’s feisty cousin, Tybalt. The pinnacle of both his and Campbell’s performances were their fight and death scenes which were both lyrically and dramatically brilliant.
The corps de ballet were also well received and performed with fervour on the first night of the new season.
McRae and Lamb will perform together once more tomorrow, 22 September, for the live cinema relay alongside Campbell, Dyer, Avis and Hirano. The two will then perform the lead roles alongside different partners. Lamb replaces an injured Natalia Osipova (26 Sept, 1 Oct, 11 Nov) with Vadmin Muntagirov as Romeo and McRae dances with Guest Artist Iana Salenko (24 Sept, 3 & 23 Nov).
The production will run until 2 December. For tickets and further details visit the website of the Royal Opera House.