"Romeo and Juliet"
The National Ballet of Canada
Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
November 25, 2015
by Denise Sum
copyright © by Denise Sum 2015
Following a run of Christopher Wheeldon's "The Winter's Tale", the National Ballet of Canada is continuing with the Shakespearean theme by presenting Alexei Ratmansky's "Romeo and Juliet". This production premiered in 2011 and has been brought back to the Four Seasons Centre stage almost annually since. In addition, the company has toured with this "Romeo and Juliet" to England and the US. The ballet is looking stronger and more cohesive with each viewing. It is a complex work with many choreographic layers, which perhaps take time to reveal themselves to viewers. The dancers seem to be really delving into the roles as well, making for even more powerful, nuanced interpretations as they have time to explore different approaches. There were a number of standout performances on opening night, making this timeless tale really come to life.
Guillaume Côté and Elena Lobsanova in "Romeo and Juliet". Photo © Bruce Zinger.
There are countless ballet productions of "Romeo and Juliet". Once one has become accustomed to one, it may become the definitive version in one's mind. Still, Ratmansky's vivid production leaves a lasting impression. There is a sense of the narrative, choreographic, musical and design elements being integrated into a coherent whole. Ratmansky has taken cues directly from Shakespeare's text, translating memorable soliloquies into movement vignettes. The choreography is intricate and varied. Ratmansky expertly draws from both academic and colloquial dance vocabularies to convey character, rank, and emotional state. Juliet moves completely differently depending on if she is in the presence of her nurse, Lady Capulet, Paris or Romeo. The recurrence of musical leitmotifs was also used to good effect in highlighting shifts in characters or circumstances. When the nurse gives Romeo the letter from Juliet, he kisses her and giddily dances the same petit allegro that Juliet playfully did with her while getting ready for the ball. In that moment, the nurse has endeared herself to Romeo in the same way that she has to Juliet. As Mercutio is dying, a slow version of the melody from the masked pas de trois he danced with Romeo and Benvolio before the ball returns. They reprise the same steps, but look completely different as they are now men dealing with the weight of their actions rather than carefree boyish pals.
The look of the ballet is fitting with the early Italian Renaissance period. Richard Hudson's designs are straight out of the Camera degli Sposi of Mantua's Palazzo Ducale, using trome l'oeil techniques to give depth to the space. The uncluttered, minimalist sets for the outdoor scenes give an airy, open feel, while towering bed posts and arches in the Capulet home evoke a cavernous and grand palace. Lavishly detailed costumes and a warm terracotta palette fill out the scenes without overwhelming. Of course, all this is carried by Sergei Prokofiev's sweeping and expressive score, conducted by David Briskin.
Guillaume Côté and Elena Lobsanova were sublime together as the young lovers in this performance. It was truly evident that the roles were made for them; they fit them like a glove. The fact that Côté was returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for nearly a year made the evening particularly special for audience and artists alike. Thankfully, he appears to have fully recovered and danced with the unfettered passion he is known for. His phrasing was impeccable as he linked movements in a smooth, continuous way, hanging in each fondu or renversé. He was utterly compelling as a youth driven by romantic ideals. In the opening scene, he is reading a book, presumably a love story (which his friends tease him for). Later, when he meets Juliet, he looks at her with an electric sense of amazement as if he cannot believe what is happening is real. No wonder he offers himself to her unconditionally in the balcony pas de deux and later pounds his fist to the ground in gut wrenching despair at her tomb. Lobsanova matched Côté in dramatic intensity and technical facility. She takes an effective less is more approach. Movements and expressions may be carefully calibrated, but appear completely spontaneous and natural as she soars through jumps and lifts, suspended in the air. She embodied Juliet's transformation in a genuine way. In the last act, her determination to escape an inauthentic union with Paris and feuding society is chilling. Moreover, Côté and Lobsanova's partnership is a remarkable one where they are able to be completely in sync, moving with one breath and feeding off each other's energy.
Mercutio was excellently danced by Skylar Campbell, who struck a balance between being an attention-loving joker and a loyal and caring friend to Romeo. As his humorless opponent Tybalt, the tall and powerful Evan McKie was an imposing presence. From his first entrance, his anger was palpable and it was clear that he would not settle until blood was shed. Lorna Geddes was a sweet and kindhearted nurse, while Peter Ottmann was convincing as the well-intentioned Friar Laurence racked with guilt in the final, tragic scene.
It is lovely to see the richness in Ratmansky's "Romeo and Juliet" continue to develop over the years. The production certainly appears to be here to stay.