You always remember your first time, don’t you? And in ballet one imagines that Juliet wants to remember her first Romeo as a thunderclap. So the Royal Ballet’s director Kevin O’Hare, for reasons best known to himself, gives the most exciting new young star the Royal Ballet has seen for years the role of Juliet and…Matthew Golding as Romeo.
And so it was that Francesca Hayward’s mesmerising debut in this most prized of all Royal ballerina roles will be remembered as a bomb exploding in a vacuum. This Juliet will have to hunt for a new Romeo to find her match; she will have better nights to remember than that first one, which should have been so precious. While we, the public, can only grind our teeth in frustration at such a casting cock-up.
My aspersions on the tall, fit Golding are not on his toothsomeness (who could fault toothsomeness in a Romeo?) as much as on the fact that he fits a too prevalent WYSIWYG category at the post-MacMillan Royal Ballet. Remember WYSIWYG? It was a virtue in computer software — What You See Is What You Get. But in ballet, you want rather more than you can see.
And we certainly had an eyeful from Hayward last Friday night. As Tobey Maguire said about Seabiscuit, she may be little, but she is fierce. In fact, I have never before thought of Juliet as a wilful Mafia daughter who would have been quite capable of one day ruling the Capulet family as a female Don had Romeo not gatecrashed her coming-out party. The line-up of Gary Avis’s Lord Capulet, Kristen McNally’s Lady Capulet, Thomas Whitehead’s Tybalt, and wee, glowing, nuclear Hayward as Juliet for that tremendous pompous march struck a new match on the drama. It reminded us that the Royal Ballet is sometimes better at polishing the dramatic situation with its character-playing than at polishing stars.
Against this formidable line-up, not to mention Marcelino Sambé’s sparky little Mercutio, Golding had an unremarkable ordinariness, not brilliant at dancing, good at fighting, up for sex with Juliet, and that’s about it, without any dimension of poetry to arrest one’s thoughts. Hayward possibly overcompensated for the unequal pairing — one was reminded that she triumphed in her Manon debut months ago, so sex kitten came before innocent.
But she combines, as some of the greats do, seemingly contradictory qualities — hands and arms as light and sensitive as butterflies and a storming upper body that makes every single movement read physically, every thought tell. When she danced with Paris, fuck you was written all over her. Hayward promises to be a thoroughly new broom in the Royal’s gem-laden cupboard of ballerina roles.
Whereas surely Yasmine Naghdi and Matthew Ball will hug their first Romeo and Juliet their whole lives. What a dream debut for these two youngsters, a pair whose flight to private passion eclipsed a world of cynicism with their innocence. Naghdi has a rare, sombre virtuousness on stage; Ball, with his high forehead and curly hair, looked like a portrait of Philip Sidney, which compensated for some undeveloped dancing. But the closeness between them in their balcony scene marvellously showed two youngsters swimming in love.
The obstacles of love are popular subjects in contemporary dance, but rarely have I seen them so arrestingly translated as in James Cousins’s excellent two-parter at The Place last week, Without Stars and There We Have Been, based on Haruki Murakami’s novel Norwegian Wood. A triangle played out two ways — from the viewpoint of the rejected, and then that of the rejector — it would only work if Cousins could convey the physical language of apparent submission while the thoughts are somewhere else. Like Juliet with Paris, but more so.
You see why Cousins was talent-spotted by Matthew Bourne. He composes his dance-theatre with a powerful combination of body language heightened by acrobatic skill into a vivid, versatile dance, and an evident understanding of how super-sparse lighting (by Guy Hoare) and an evocative musical mix of filmic sounds and popular song (by Seymour Milton) can separate, isolate, halo and intensify the separateness of people’s feelings when they’re involved with each other.
Chihiro Kawasaki is the mercurially slippery girl who the hardworking Gareth Mole agonisingly loves; her thoughts drift away to a watcher in the shadows, the pony-tailed Georges Hann, with whom in part two she shares an absorbingly emotive, treacle-soft, intimately wrought duet. Shades of Romeo and Juliet, parted only by the dark.