The Royal Ballet at the O2
On 17th June 2011, The Royal Ballet pushed the boat out from their usual home in Covent Garden to the O2 in Greenwich for four performances of Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo & Juliet. They took with them their star names – Carlos Acosta, Tamara Rojo, Alina Cojocaru, Johan Kobborg, Lauren Cuthbertson & Ed Watson, not forgetting the essential and hard-working corps de ballet (who didn’t get a curtain call).
At the O2, a brochure costs the same as a ticket, whereas in the gilt and crimson auditorium of Covent Garden a seat can set you back over £100 for the most popular productions. It has to be said; there are cheap seats as well – way up in the Gods with a restricted view & possible nose-bleed, and standing places which obviously aren’t seats at all. For once, a comparable orchestra stalls view at the O2 was on offer that didn’t leave you facing the prospect of a diet of baked beans for the rest of the year. Tickets ranged from £10 to £60, though there was a booking fee which Covent Garden regulars aren’t used to.
Royal Ballet Soloist Bennet Gartside produced a pair of compelling, some would say, “underground” videos, with the aim of encouraging everyone to give ballet a go. Gartside has shown the kind of vision that, when you look at his relentless schedule, leaves those in the press and marketing departments – who have all day to develop and implement ideas – in the dust. And this innovation at a time when there are savings to be made as a result of cuts to the arts budget.
So, was it a success ? The O2 has been unremittingly coy about exact ticket sales, and their spokesman would only say, “we won’t be making the exact figures public. If you were to say approx 50,000 people watched the ballet at the weekend you would not be too far off the mark.”
Here’s a post-production audience snapshot :
The bedroom dance
“Tamara & Carlos were amazing tonight. I haven’t seen many ballets but that was the best by far for me. The O2 is huge. First time watching a show here. The bedroom dance was amazing and so intense.”
Tommy Franzén, Dancer/Choreographer
A whiff of chips and vinegar
“Being a professional ballet dancer myself, I had some concerns that the performance would get lost in such a big venue – R&J is a very personal ballet, full of emotion – but I was gladly surprised. Having the orchestra above the dancers was different, but I think that they made it work. The big screens definitely helped; from far away you couldn’t really see the expressions on the dancers faces, and the little videos in between scenes was a good touch – it kept the audience’s attention and helped, I think, with the story for those who didn’t know the ballet. The first 5-6 minutes was a bit chaotic as half of the audience was still flooding in, and now and again you got a whiff of chips and vinegar…not really what you’d expect during a ballet. Overall it was a great experience and ballet companies should do more to bring ballet to masses. I have danced on that stage and trying to reach all of the audience with the performance is a challenge but I think that Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta did an amazing job, and I think that everyone was touched by their performance.”
Valentina, Covent Garden
Close to tears
“I went to the Saturday evening performance of Romeo & Juliet at The O2 & it was amazing, I thoroughly enjoyed it!! Juliet was breath-taking; her performance was extraordinary & she brought me close to tears…very moving & very intense!! A def must see!!”
Disappointing evening & hot dogs
“I was really excited heading to the O2 to see The Royal Ballet perform Romeo and Juliet. Ballet reaching new people in a larger audience than ever before. The idea of giving ballet the pop star treatment appeals enormously. I went on Saturday. I was so disappointed. I found it impossible to engage with the performance. There was simply no emotion for me. Throughout the first half, audience members were coming in late and being shown to seats in the middle of rows. From my floor level seat in row T my view was obtained by sitting up ramrod straight and peering over a sea of heads. I felt a million miles from the stage. When the stage was crowded in the market place scenes I could barely tell where I was supposed to look and the fights were lost in the mêlée. I couldn’t see feet at all when the dancers were at the front of the stage; there seemed to be some kind of lip on the edge of the stage that covered everything. Ballet is one art form where seeing feet is kind of important… I liked the idea of the ‘backstage’ footage and the readings from Shakespeare’s text but it didn’t work for me at all. It didn’t add anything and was yet another distraction to add to the people eating hot dogs and taking photos. Part two began with another slow and constant stream of people wandering in during the dancing. The ballet was good as far as I could see with some difficult choreography handled completely by the company and strong acting from Alina Cojocaru. I just couldn’t get involved. The big screens showed at most the middle third of an often packed stage, often zooming in on head and shoulders and missing the beginnings of lifts. There are moments in Romeo and Juliet where the two lovers stare at each other across a stage; they make a connection and move the story forward. This doesn’t work if you can only see one of the cast. The sound was good, the orchestra could be heard clearly and had been amplified in a way that allowed you to retain a sense of individual instruments and some of the direction. It was much better than the conglomerated sound produced at the Albert Hall for Strictly Gershwin. Maybe it would have been different if I’d seen Carlos Acosta (shouldn’t the biggest star take Saturday evening?) Oddly there was no curtain call for the corps de ballet. They’d done so much and the lute players had some very tricky choreography to master. They had three screens so why not show a third of the screen on each and give us the full picture? I know my thoughts were not universally shared. My partner sat next to me and had a tear in his eye at the end. I hope this helps ballet reach a bigger audience. I hope it then brings them to sit next to me in the gods at Covent Garden. The view may not be much better but the theatre has an atmosphere. All in all it was such a disappointing evening.”
Ballet Boyz broadcast patchy
“I was very glad to have caught Alina, Johan and the company but I would still choose a theatre, all else being equal. I need the curtain and the scenery!! Some of the broadcast images were good, but others not – if they were all done by Nunn and Trevitt, the Boyz forgot the fact that for the audience, the scenes with Juliet’s entrances in Act 1 were supposed to build up with anticipation about what she looked like and what she was feeling, and not to spoil it by giving us a “preview”. Might have something to do with the fact that they’d grown up being the ballets performers (even in RBS) rather than its audience.”