Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet had casting problems right from the start, when Lynn Seymour and Christopher Gable famously gave way to Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. On Saturday, the cast change was due to injury, and Natalia Osipova was replaced by Sarah Lamb, partnered by Vadim Muntagirov. Lamb and Osipova seem to me to be at opposite poles, the one being a warm, passionate risk-taker, the other cool, restrained and exquisitely accurate. It cannot be easy to perform knowing that the majority of the audience originally booked to see another very different dancer.

Lamb’s Juliet started well: her natural playfulness with her Nurse (Genesia Rosato) was delightful and she showed us a well behaved little girl, who probably always folded her clothes at night and never forgot to clean her teeth. Her pure classical style with lovely line, bourrées that pour across the stage and a sense of balance that seems to suspend her in the air is a great pleasure to watch. Muntagirov, who is dancing even better and more consistently than I remember him at English National Ballet, matched her with graceful elegance (except when walking!).

What I missed was the sense of the recklessness, excitement, desperation and abandonment of two teenagers swept along by passion on the tide of a family feud. Perhaps the partnership needs time to develop. But if I felt no real spark between them, Lamb’s careful interpretation seemed almost not to need a Romeo, her anguish springing from within herself and from her relationship with her family as much as from external events. These were not two fiery young Italians at heart; that was left to Mercutio (Valentino Zucchetti) and Tybalt (Thiago Soares), the former so foolishly impertinent, the latter so disastrously violent, and to the surging mob of street fighters. At the end of MacMillan’s ballet there is no hope, no promise of reconciliation. The image that remains for me is of a nameless corps de ballet dancer downstage left in one of the crowd scenes, convulsed with grief over a man’s death: we know at the end that this is going to happen again and again.

Maggie Watson

3 October 2015

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