In partnership with The National Ballet of Canada, through the Emerging Dance Critics Programme, we are providing one-on-one editorial mentorship and publishing exposure to a selected group of emerging dance writers who have demonstrated an investment in the field. Over the course of June 2014, this group of writers will produce reviews about the summer season, which will be edited according to our standards and posted in this dedicated column.
Shakespeare’s tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, has been brought alive through a variety of mediums since it was penned in the sixteenth century. The translation of the well-known play into a ballet, however, has infused the story with a new light and energy in the National Ballet of Canada’s (NBoC) production, which concluded the company’s summer season at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto. First performed in 2011 to great acclaim, this production is flawlessly choreographed by one of the world’s most in-demand choreographers, former Bolshoi Ballet artistic director Alexei Ratmansky, who was invited by NBoC Artistic Director Karen Kain to choreograph a new version in celebration of the company’s sixtieth anniversary. Backed by Sergei Prokofiev’s magnificent score, written as a narrative dance-drama meticulously matched to the play’s scenes, and with a dazzling array of costumes and sets by Richard Hudson, this spectacular production holds the audience under its spell from its opening scene to the final curtain.
The ballet is set in the city of Verona during the Italian Renaissance and the set itself makes a stunning supporting character in this production, along with the large, colourful cast. The women of Verona are clad in colourful flat shoes, which brings alive the feeling of a marketplace, and also contrast with Juliet’s pointe shoes. The audience meets exuberant Romeo (played by Guillaume Côté in the June 20 performance) of the Montague family and his equally spirited friends Mercutio (Piotr Stanczyk) and Benvolio (Robert Stephen), but the pleasant atmosphere is quickly darkened by the arrival of Tybalt (McGee Maddox) from the Capulet family, through whom the enmity between the Montagues and Capulets is illustrated. In a dramatic opening scene, Shakespeare’s story of woe begins with the death of two young men by sword, which sets the stage for what is about to unfold in the scenes to come.
Juliet (Elena Lobsanova) is a bright-eyed, passionate young woman whose interactions with her Nurse (Lorna Geddes) are truly illustrative of her playful personality. Juliet’s life is a difficult one, however, as her mother and father, Lord and Lady Capulet (Etienne Lavigne and Stephanie Hutchison), plan her betrothal to Paris (Patrick Lavoie), an aristocratic suitor. Lobsanova has a lovely, sweet ability to express through her movements and facial expressions her uncertainty regarding her marriage to Paris, while still retaining her youthful charisma.
The lightest and most beautiful of scenes in this production is the lavish ball at the Capulet home. Ballet is the perfect medium for this love story, and as Romeo and Juliet famously meet for the first time, their immediate infatuation with one another is magically expressed through dance. Lobsanova’s ball gown is exquisite in its movement and femininity, and stands out meaningfully against the darker colours of the guests around her. The two pledge their love to one another later that evening below Juliet’s balcony, but this is the last of the production’s lighthearted moments, as the scenes to follow take a much darker turn.
Romeo and Juliet may be one of the most well-known plays ever to grace the stage, but its transition to ballet, with Prokofiev’s deeply beautiful and dramatic score, breathes an entirely new life, and spirit, into the characters. Stanczyk’s high-jumping, hilarious Mercutio steals all the scenes from his fellow cast members, demonstrating his dance prowess as well as his perfect comedic timing. Maddox as Tybalt is a perfectly cast antagonist, and his feelings toward Romeo are reflected in his movements and through the sword fights that keep the audience on the edge of their seats. Lobsanova and Côté have a chemistry that is clear in their partnering. Lobsanova uses the space of the stage to her advantage, taking great leaping strides and jumps, while Côté passionately lifts her in the air, only to hold her close seconds afterward in a loving embrace. The intensity between the two characters is unmistakable, and in their final, famous scene together, they elicit an emotional silence from a mesmerized audience.
The art of ballet truly lends itself best to a love story, and there is no love story more classic or hauntingly beautiful “than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
Reading Writing Dancing is one of The Dance Current’s educational programs, providing workshops, seminars, mentorship and professional development to emerging and established dance writers alike. As part of our commitment to the field, we partner with like-minded organizations to educate dance readers and dance writers, providing public access to dance art and culture, and facilitating dance literacy and appreciation.