Radio & Juliet / Faun / MсGregor + Mugler review – Radiohead, gangs and OTT dazzle


What do you get when you cross Romeo and Juliet with Radiohead? The answer is in this ballet triple bill from Russian producer MuzArts. Much of the show’s promotion has centred on a new collaboration between fashion designer Manfred Thierry Mugler and choreographer Wayne McGregor. That turns out to be a short, 15-minute duet, but it’s quite the showstopper. The meat of the programme is the UK premiere of Edward Clug’s Radio & Juliet, from 2005, where the Romanian choreographer reinvents Romeo and Juliet, setting it to the music of Thom Yorke and co.

A band who embody the sound of turn-of-millennium anxiety might not be the obvious choice for an early modern romance, but given that Shakespeare’s play is also a story of devastating gang warfare, Clug’s dystopian vision starts to make sense. He drastically strips everything back – story, set (there isn’t one), costumes, context, even the love. This leaves the music (from Amnesiac, OK Computer and Kid A) to provide simmering unease, palpitating rhythm and a sense of processing towards doom.



Katja Khaniukova in Radio & Juliet. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

This is not a story about a connection between two people. Katja Khaniukova, from English National Ballet, is Juliet and Mariinsky principal Denis Matvienko her Romeo, but there’s little emotional substance in their pas de deux. The overriding energy is coolly masculine. Matvientko and a lineup of five men from Clug’s own Slovenian Maribor Ballet, in black suits and with bare chests, dance a speeded-up full-body semaphore, limbs thrown in hard-edged slaps and slices, sometimes turning into a ninja-kicking battle.

Handheld black-and-white video is effective in the fight scenes and there are moments of sharp, chilling drama – such as when the lights close in on dying Mercutio being lifted, clinically, by four men wearing white gloves, his body still twitching. Terrifying.

Vyacheslav Lopatin and Anastasia Stashkevich in Faun.



Vyacheslav Lopatin and Anastasia Stashkevich in Faun. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Faun provides a salve for the doom, two mythical creatures cavorting in the woods of Nijinsky’s L’Apres Midi d’un Faune reimagined. As it happens, Acosta Danza brought this same piece to London only a few weeks ago, and Acosta’s dancers did it better, but Vyacheslav Lopatin, from the Bolshoi Ballet, nails the faun’s melting-muscled movement.

And then there’s MсGregor + Mugler, the finale. Manfred Thierry Mugler was a professional ballet dancer in his youth, but is better known for his glamorously theatrical fashion of the 80s and 90s and, more recently designing for Cirque du Soleil, Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé. A-list stuff, although when the lights first flash up, my immediate thought is: Starlight Express. Olga Smirnova and Edward Watson (from the Bolshoi and Royal Ballet, respectively) appear in shimmering bodysuits with metallic thongs and chest plates, topped with gold and silver headdresses. They have metallic crosses in their belly buttons, masks and wild fountains of hair like exotic birds. It’s so dazzlingly OTT, who remembers what they were actually dancing? The choreography feels as if it was dashed out in a day and it’s mainly about showing off supreme queen Smirnova, who looks like an intergalactic empress from the year 3000.

Watson doesn’t get as great a showcase but you have to admire his willingness to go there. He is known for sensitive, physiologically complex roles in ballets such as Mayerling and Manon. But ask him to don a golden codpiece and the mask of a woman’s face and he’s like: ‘Sure, why not!’ And he commits.

It’s the absolute opposite of Radiohead-meets-Shakespearean tragedy. Utterly ridiculous but also kind of brilliant.

At London Coliseum until 8 December.



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