Magazine article The Spectator

Surprised by Sylvie

Magazine article The Spectator

Surprised by Sylvie

Article excerpt

Romeo and Juliet (Royal Ballet, Labatt's Apollo)

Ideally, critics should never prejudge a performance. In real life, however, expectations, predictions and assumptions are inevitable when reviewing. Last week, I must confess, I approached the opening night of the Royal Ballet's new season at Labatt's Apollo with mixed feelings. Much as I love Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet, I could not help having some reservations about the choice of the principal female dancer, namely Sylvie Guillem.

Like other balletomanes, I have always found that her overwhelming technical abilities and her detached, unconventional and often unorthodox response to the choreographic text suit perfectly contemporary/post-modern works such as those by Forsythe, Bejart and Ek. Still, the same `qualities' clash vividly with the stylistic and dramatic requirements of the more mainstream 19th- and 20th-century 'classical' repertoire, and the narrative one in particular. The last thing I wanted to see, therefore, was either a Juliet lacking dramatic depth or a choreography I adore being altered to accommodate a superfluous and meaningless display of hyper-extended legs which have become Guillem's trademark.

Fortunately, assumptions and predictions are often wrong. Guillem's performance was simply stunning. Her rendition of Juliet was, in other words, that constantly invoked but seldom seen `surprise factor' which, by confounding expectations, contributes greatly to the success of an evening. Throughout the three acts of MacMillan's masterwork, the French star managed to derive from the existing movement vocabulary a multicoloured palette of dramatic nuances, thus taking full advantage of that subtle trail of interpretative options that lies within an already expressive choreographic construction, where each step has a precise meaning.

Guillem's Juliet is a contemporary Juliet that combines the psychological traits of an upper-class spoilt brat - revealed by her stubborn, whimsical behaviour in the ballroom scene - with those of a strong woman, matured through sorrow, who fights in vain against her own destiny. Her tragedy is the tragedy of a person who, having being pampered and protected from the crude reality of every day, is suddenly confronted by it. What I particularly appreciated about Guillem's rendition was the way her Juliet reached her psychological maturity without any abrupt dramatic change between one act and another - as is often the case. …

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