How far would you go, if you were utterly in love? Till death you do part? Kenneth MacMillan’s 1965 ballet Romeo and Juliet remains a magnet for audiences and for performers all playing that ritual game with their own feelings. Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares are a married couple, and brought to their single performance (unaccountably) in this new run of Covent Garden’s timeless attraction an infusion of pounding blood and sensual compatibility. Nothing was studied about the pleasure with which Nuñez nuzzled Soares’ neck briefly in their first snatched duet at the Capulet ball, nothing constrained about their final flights and kisses at the end of the Balcony Scene.
It’s a tremendous test of artistry to deliver a long-familiar tune, or role, or symphony, or speech, as if it was the first time, and even more in this story for an off-stage couple, but this pair (sometimes overshadowed by the more famous RB item, Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg ) have a Latin blitheness and high blood about them that you can almost smell. While Nuñez is the finer stylist of the two, Soares is one of the most talented stage creatures the Royal Ballet has had for years, and the two of them danced it as if for the last time.
If the harlots had an offensive animal reek the entire stage would be animated whenever they appeared
Soares may well be outdanced by Ricardo Cervera’s neat-lined Mercutio, but Cervera is far too well-scrubbed in a character that should be all spice, tobacco and scars; the tiresome harlots, led energetically this time by Itziar Mendizabal, also have a deodorised I’m-the-naughtiest-girl-at-school archness about them, when if they had an offensive animal reek the entire stage would be animated whenever they appeared.
But the Brazilian’s Romeo has a prowling, hunter quality about him from his first entry sniffing after Rosaline. He has magnificently arrogant arms, points his chin at girls like a lion scenting gazelles, carries himself like a man who knows his entitlement, and gives every impression of smelling invitingly of hot, male sweat. This all compensates for the inferior work of his legs, exposed in the deft, prancing trio for Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio before the ball.
Thomas Whitehead’s Tybalt is even more arrestingly malodorous; a chisel-jawed, tawny dish in red, half-cut most of the time, he'd be rank with BO and wine, and clearly lost his duel with Romeo because he was pissed. He may be the best Tybalt I’ve seen since... Soares, who is a performer of unusual versatility.
Those two guys brought ripe, smelly, medieval Verona alive, which Act II in particular needs and doesn’t always get. MacMillan adapted the story superbly for balletic treatment - the opening scene of Romeo and Rosaline and the initial lethal skirmish between gangs has a visual style and inexorabile fit with Prokofiev’s fatalistic music that shows a choreographic dramatist of genius at work. By the end of the next little scene, where young Juliet is introduced to Paris, her intended husband, MacMillan has asserted the hypocrisy of this essentially gangster society, unregulated by anything more than macho posturing and status deals.
Pictured above, Nuñez and Soares in rehearsal © Zarina Holmes 
What I instantly loved about Nuñez and Soares’ performance was how simply and lustily they played its opening, so that after the first two scenes it looked like Romeo-4-Rosaline, Juliet-4-Paris, both couples apparently well on the way to separate existences. Even at the ball, when Soares first noticed Nuñez, and she kept looking back at him, it was for several minutes just curiosity between them, Romeo assessing the talent, Juliet loving having two boys admiring her, dishy Paris (Valery Hristov) and bold Romeo.
The finish regenerated - yes, as if for the first time - the horror of imagining yourself alone with the dead body of your only love
It suddenly stepped up in stakes when in a tempo change in Nuñez’s solo, she made her preference for Romeo clear, and he rushed heedlessly to her to clutch her around the waist and lift her. A pact of love sealed, the wheels of fate regeared on a risky new road. In another observant detail, they both had a way of halting, holding each other’s gaze in stillness, holding time suspended for a heartbeat.
Of such true details was a tapestry stitched that richly represented the immortal, constantly retreaded young lovers, and led to a finish of powerful emotions, regenerating - yes, as if for the first time - the horror of imagining yourself alone with the dead body of your only love, and killing yourself alone in the stone-cold dark.
But the impact and integrity of a performance like this rests on a serene amplitude of general excellence in the characterising. Elizabeth McGorian’s Lady Capulet is an evergreen marvel, the most elegantly dutiful of wives to the irascible, dangerous Capulet of Gary Avis, and her breakdown over Tybalt’s body was, as ever, a cameo of stunning grief. A quirky, sweet Nurse from Kristen McNally, and an eyecatching marmoreal Rosaline from Melissa Hamilton (whose debut as Juliet in March I eagerly await).
Much of this well-knit dramatic playing rests on the high quality of the orchestral delivery of the dark forces of Prokofiev’s music - praise to conductor Pavel Sorokin, who for me suits this heavier score better than Prokofiev’s scintillating Cinderella .