DESKTOP
TABLET (max. 1024px)
MOBILE (max. 640px)
Return to Top
Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | Ratmansky’s Choreography And Wonderful Performances Light Up The NBC's Romeo And Juliet

By Paula Citron on March 12, 2020

Elena Lobsanova and Guillaume Côté in Romeo and Juliet (Photo: Bruce Zinger)
Elena Lobsanova and Guillaume Côté in Romeo and Juliet (Photo: Bruce Zinger)

The National Ballet of Canada/Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky, Four Seasons Centre, Mar. 11 to 22. Tickets available at national.ballet.ca/Tickets.

With each viewing, Alexei Ratmansky’s choreography for Romeo and Juliet grows in esteem. Prokofiev’s magnum opus (1935) is arguably the greatest ballet score of the 20th century, and Ratmansky captures the richly expressed music in dynamic movement. In fact, the two fit together like hand to glove. One hears the complexity of Prokofiev’s genius with greater understanding while watching the dance unfold.

When it was announced that artistic director Karen Kain had commissioned Ratmansky to create a new Romeo and Juliet for the National’s sixtieth anniversary in 2011, there were audible gasps. The company had been performing John Cranko’s 1962 choreography for decades and that beloved version was considered a company signature piece.

It was a gutsy decision on Kain’s part to replace a beloved work that was considered perfection, but it has paid off. With a growing distance away from Cranko, Ratmansky’s Romeo and Juliet can be seen for its dramatic brilliance in all its glory. It also doesn’t hurt to have a full-length work by one of the world’s hottest choreographers in the repertoire. Russian-born Ratmansky is a former artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet, and is currently artist-in-residence at American Ballet Theatre.

To keep delving deeper into a remounted dance piece, I take on a distinct task. This time, my aim was to focus on Ratmansky’s innovations, and there are many. It was obvious in the 2011 premiere that the choreographer had thrown out mime sequences and replaced them with movement. He had also added in choreography in the most unexpected places, particularly in Act III.

Guillaume Côté and Elena Lobsanova in Romeo and Juliet (Photo: Bruce Zinger)
Guillaume Côté and Elena Lobsanova in Romeo and Juliet (Photo: Bruce Zinger)

Take for example, the pas de quatre that Ratmansky put in for Juliet (Elena Lobsanova), her parents (Etienne Lavigne and Stephanie Hutchison) and Paris (Ben Rudisin) when the young girl is told that she is to marry Paris the next day. While the other three perform stately steps in a circle dance, Juliet hurls her body around in anguish within the circle to show her inner despair. Or when Friar Laurence (Peter Ottmann) holds Juliet close as dimly lit behind a curtain, the impact of the sleeping draught is acted out. Her parents find a supposedly dead Juliet (performed by a double), who then wakes up and is joyfully reunited with Romeo (Guillaume Côté), the two performing echoes from their balcony scene pas de deux. Or when the Capulets, the bridesmaids and Paris arrive on the morning of the wedding to Juliet’s bedchamber, Paris surprisingly performs some virtuosic jumps backed by the bridesmaids, conjuring up perhaps pomposity or even simple happiness. Or dispensing with Juliet’s funeral, and going straight to Romeo’s arrival at the burial vault. Ratmansky has filled the ballet with these insightful inclusions, which enrich the story immensely.

While looking at the particulars, I have also come away with a greater sense of the general. Ratmansky’s zeitgeist for the work as a whole is youthful vigour. From the get go, we see only the young people of Verona. The usual beginning market scene, with its chaotic food fight between the Montagues and the Capulets that is embedded in most other versions, is replaced by an exuberant ensemble for the young. Taking their place within this milieu are Romeo’s rambunctious friends Mercutio (Jack Bertinshaw) and Benvolio (Skylar Campbell) representing the Montagues. And let us not forget the hot-headed Tybalt (Piotr Stanczyk) representing the Capulets. This spirited energy is further manifested in the delightfully playful and cheeky choreography Ratmansky gives to Romeo and his friends, and to the four mummers who entertain the crowd. The sword fights are electrifying and terrifying. Everything about this ballet is youthful defiance writ large.

Guillaume Côté and Elena Lobsanova in Romeo and Juliet (Photo: Bruce Zinger)
Guillaume Côté and Elena Lobsanova in Romeo and Juliet (Photo: Bruce Zinger)

Lobsanova and Côté were the original 2011 cast, and clearly the roles have grown to live in their bodies. I have always maintained that dancers, be they classical or contemporary, whose arms are a bit longer than most, make for gorgeous performers, and Lobsanova is such a one. Her combination of crispness and grace, precision of placement and delicacy of movement, and physical prowess tempered by quintessential femininity, make her the perfect Juliet. As for Côté, I’m starting to believe that he is ageless. The dancer is pushing the limit for a male in the ballet world (he was born in 1981), but he holds his own with Bertinshaw and Campbell, and he is the epitome of a romantic leading man.

Kudos also to Bertinshaw who captures Mercutio’s insouciant bravado to perfection, and Stanczyk who is turning into the National’s resident meanie. In contrast to everyone else’s joyful exuberance, Tybalt’s tightly wound anger literally jumps off the stage. And no one does the fussy and loving Nurse better than Lorna Geddes.

We also have to give a big shout-out to the National Ballet Orchestra and conductor David Briskin who performed superbly. Ratmansky’s choreography makes one listen to the music more keenly, and the orchestra joined with the dancers to give Prokofiev a grand airing.

It does still bother me, however, that designer Richard Hudson, who has given every single dancer in the ballet a unique Renaissance period costume, has garbed Juliet’s four friends in the same quite ugly dress at the ball. It makes no sense that these young women would be wearing the same outfit. I can see them being clothed the same as bridesmaids, but at the ball? Come on, Richard. As well, I want to know who the masked mummers are, but they are uncredited in the program. I want names. I am, however, getting more used to Hudson’s stylized, overpowering, oversized sets. Verona may dwarf the dancers, but within the towering walls, lives humanity.

I do still love the Cranko version, but Ratmansky’s choreography is right up there as a masterful interpretation of Prokofiev’s glorious music, which the National performs wonderfully well.

#LUDWIGVAN

Want more updates on classical music and opera news and reviews? Follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter for all the latest.

Follow me

Paula Citron

Paula Citron is a Toronto-based freelance arts journalist and broadcaster who hosts her own website, paulacitron.ca. For over 25 years, she was senior dance writer for The Globe and Mail, associate editor of Opera Canada magazine, arts reviewer for Classical 96.3 FM, and dance previews contributor to Toronto Life magazine. She has been a guest lecturer for various cultural groups and universities, particularly on the role of the critic/reviewer, and has been a panellist on COC podcasts. Before assuming a full-time journalism career, Ms. Citron was a member of the drama department of the Claude Watson School for the Arts.
Paula Citron
Follow me
Follow me

Paula Citron

Paula Citron is a Toronto-based freelance arts journalist and broadcaster who hosts her own website, paulacitron.ca. For over 25 years, she was senior dance writer for The Globe and Mail, associate editor of Opera Canada magazine, arts reviewer for Classical 96.3 FM, and dance previews contributor to Toronto Life magazine. She has been a guest lecturer for various cultural groups and universities, particularly on the role of the critic/reviewer, and has been a panellist on COC podcasts. Before assuming a full-time journalism career, Ms. Citron was a member of the drama department of the Claude Watson School for the Arts.
Paula Citron
Follow me
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_high_590x300
comments powered by Disqus

Ludwig Van Toronto

CRITIC'S PICKS | 10 Concerts You Absolutely Need To See In Toronto This Week

By Joseph So on March 9, 2020

Classical music and opera events happening in and around Toronto for the week of March 9 – 15.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_high_590x300

THE SCOOP | Two Violins From Montreal And Toronto Come Together In Virtual Duet Online

By Michael Vincent on March 24, 2020

A new video release today features Andrew Wan and Jonathan Crow, Concertmasters from the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Symphony Orchestra, in a touching virtual duo.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article

SCRUTINY | James Rhodes Is The Ambassador Classical Music Needs

By Michael Zarathus-Cook on March 6, 2020

James Rhodes brings f-bombs, an irreverent approach, and sensitive and virtuosic interpretations of Beethoven's lesser known piano sonatas in his Canadian debut.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_low_590x300
lv_toronto_ssb_atf_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_high_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_mid_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_low_300x300
lv_toronto_tsb_high_300x700
lv_toronto_tsb_low_300x700
lv_toronto_ssb_atf_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_high_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_mid_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_low_300x300
lv_toronto_tsb_high_300x700
lv_toronto_tsb_low_300x700

We have detected that you are using an adblocking plugin in your browser.

The revenue we earn by the advertisements is used to manage this website. Please whitelist our website in your adblocking plugin.