Romeo & Juliet review – Sergei Polunin is reunited with Alina Cojocaru, and his talent

There’s been a lot of water under a few bridges in the almost 10 years since Sergei Polunin walked out of a rehearsal with Alina Cojocaru at the Royal Ballet and into his new life as ballet’s most notorious outlaw – a man who can more or less fill the Royal Albert Hall on the sheer pulling power of his name.

The prodigious dancing that propelled him to this status – along with his rebellious, tattoo-loving, drug-taking reputation – has not been much seen in recent years, as he neglected his technique in pursuit of different careers.

One of the best things about his London debut as Romeo in this new version of Romeo & Juliet by another Royal Ballet alumnus, Johan Kobborg, is that he is reunited with his talent. His jumps are high and light, his feet sharp. The choreography is tailored to his skills, but he doesn’t look as effortful as he has in some recent outings. His charisma holds the stage.

Another joy is that he is dancing with Cojocaru, looking ridiculously youthful for her 40 years, and with the fluid grace and ease that has always characterised her dancing.

Related: ‘I tell myself: You’re a penis’: Sergei Polunin on drugs, bad tweets – and his Putin chest tattoo

But Kobborg hasn’t given either of them quite enough to work with. There are some intelligent ideas in this chamber version of the story, which reshapes Prokofiev’s score to just 90 minutes. David Umemoto’s set, with constricting towers and steep staircases like an Escher illustration, pinions them into place; they push their backs against its walls, tiny figures trapped by circumstance. The music after Tybalt’s death is used for an expressionistic pas de deux, with Juliet in red, all the horror of the bloodshed and the waste of their thwarted love revealed by the ferocity of their movements.

That encounter apart, though, Kobborg muffles the moments when they express their feelings; their meetings are full of small detail, but no big emotions. The steps are tender but not tragic. It all feels oddly muted.

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