How clever of the former ballerina Dame Beryl Grey, in a pre-show speech at Tuesday's gala performance, to gently lower our expectations. “This is not a great masterpiece like MacMillan's,” she cautioned, adding that Ashton's take on the material favoured intimacy.
She's right. Ashton fashioned a typically lyrical, almost chamber-sized piece focused on the travails of two impulsive youths in doomed love. His approach, sensitive yet sometimes stilted, can feel at odds with the rapturous sweep of Prokofiev's score. Still, the performance delivers where it counts thanks to the casting of the Bolshoi's current dream couple, Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev.
So our Russian heroes save the reputation of the great English choreographer?
Vasiliev is an ardent Romeo, his powerful legs scooping and scissoring the air. But this is Juliet's ballet. The limpid beauty of Osipova's dancing — all languid limbs and swooning backbends — is matched by emotional radiance as Juliet gradually shifts from sweet, skittery girlishness to passionately grown-up resolve. They receive fine support from Alban Lendorf's handsomely cheeky Mercutio and Johan Christensen's devilish menace as Tybalt. Schaufuss himself brings dignity and depth to the often yawn-inducing role of the Friar.
Ok, you've convinced me – I'll go! The Telegraph mostly agrees:
Vasiliev and Osipova – emphatically “Bolshoi” (or “big”) dancers both – dive into their roles with an untrammelled vigour that, especially in her case, sometimes strays into a rather Russian, very un-Ashtonian melodrama. I'd have liked a slightly greater sense of hesitation from her at the ballroom, a subtler sense of being torn both ways, as well as a fraction more holding back in her pivotal Act 3 decision-making scene.
Oh, but how wonderfully well she handles the carefree, skittish footwork of Act 1, how magnificently he rises to the technical challenges of his two pas de trois, and, above all, how stirringly these real-life lovers respond to each other. The combination of tenderness, tremulousness and untamed passion in their mutual encounters makes the hairs prickle, as do the cornered-tiger ferocity of his challenge to Johan Christensen's Draco Malfoy-lookalike Tybalt and the shudder of horror that shoots through her as she sees Paris's body.
And Frater in The Evening Standard was bowled over by the Russian pair:
Vasiliev and Osipova are young, good-looking and among the best of their generation. Her new gamine crop is very Leslie Caron, while his curls have Byronic allure. They were every bit as good as expected: he is a compact, muscular dancer who can spin and leap to eye-popping effect; she has lightning-fast turns and high jumps. As Bolshoi dancers, they have a bold style that dominates the huge Coliseum stage – you half expect them to land in the stalls, so big are their jumps.
Electric doesn't begin to describe their chemistry. The couple are physically and artistically in sync, so duets are theatrically convincing and emotionally moving.
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.