Covent Garden it ain't. The crowd is six times the size and a good half of them of them will be munching hot dogs throughout but the Royal Ballet's debut run at London's O2 this weekend is a great success nonetheless.
The company's bold experiment has brought high art at low prices to a whole new demographic, winning thousands of friends (and political brownie points) in the process, – says The Sunday Telegraph.
Most of the seats for the first performance, with Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta, were sold. Just that in itself is proof of the worthiness of the venture. The Independent on Sunday praised the dancers:
Acting-wise, the stars faced a dilemma. Do you big up the gestures to match the space? Or do you go super-subtle, knowing that your face is being magnified on a 20ft-high screen? Carlos Acosta and Tamara Rojo chose stripped-down and streamlined, and it worked. Their one-on-one scenes – the balcony, the bedroom – were as potent as ever they've been, the sound of 12,000 people holding their breath proof of that. Only afterwards could you tell the effort it had cost. Both stars looked wrung out at their single curtain call. (There being no curtain anyway, they kept it short.)
But, like all the critics, had grave misgivings about the space:
If the Royal Ballet is going to try this again (and it will, if ticket sales are the decider), it will have to re-think. Swan Lake would have semaphored its qualities better in the present set-up.
The Telegraph had another idea:
If the experiment is repeated – and I don't see why not – it might also be an idea to colour code the characters more obviously: black for Tybalt; white for Romeo etc – that or put numbers on their backs.
The Arts Desk also had reservations (who wouldn't) about aspects of the project but, especially, the behaviour of an audience more used to the football stadium than the Opera House:
The Royal Ballet says it is inviting a new audience to experience the thrill of live ballet by taking Romeo and Juliet to the gigantic O2. Beware what you wish for. It's the thrill of the live audience I'm starting with before I get onto the splendid show. Sweet packets rustled behind my ear, fish and chips were wolfed nearby, pizza shared, drinks slurped. People were still entering in droves 30 minutes after the start, obstructing view of Juliet's first scene. People were late back for Act 2, triumphantly bringing the beers and crisps in, better late than never.
Almost as bad as all of that face-feeding, the obtrusive leafing through the extra-large programme books by perplexed (or bored) spectators during the Balcony Scene, or the bedroom duet, or other of the critical highpoints. My neighbours, both young women, apparently didn't know the story of R&J at all, and again and again I wondered how to steer them to look at the choice bits of romantic dance-drama they were missing, rather than flipping page after page back and forth in the gloom and giving me and presumably others whose view was being distracted silent conniptions.
Yes, there's much to enjoy in this staging, and much could inspire people to fall under ballet's spell, but the O2's who-cares audience policies lead to dismayingly antisocial behaviour apparently caring little for the “thrill of the live experience” for themselves or for anyone else near them. Would the Royal Ballet be considered “elitist” to protest? Aye, there's the rub.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.