BWW Review: ROMEO AND JULIET swaps iconic dialogue for emotive movement in gorgeous National Ballet of Canada production
It's a tale that's captivated audiences for hundreds of years, and although it contains some of the most iconic lines in theatre, it transitions to a non-spoken tale of forbidden love and tragedy seamlessly in this remount of the National Ballet of Canada's 2011 production.
ROMEO AND JULIET is the tale of the Montagues and Capulets, two warring families whose children Romeo (Guillaume Côté) and Juliet (Elena Lobsanova) fall in love at first sight. Over a few days, they lose close friends and family to petty fights, decide to elope, and due to an infamously terrible miscommunication, meet an early fate to be together in the only way they believe they can - death. It's a story that's been adapted, reinterpreted, and remade countless times, but having Shakespeare's iconic beloved dialogue replaced with poetic dance lends a new angle to the story.
Alexei Ratmansky's fast-paced choreography is relentless, which only lends to the speed of events in the story. When huge, life-altering events happen non-stop over the course of three days it only makes sense to require the dancers to keep up - a challenge that this cast meets without fail. From busy ensemble numbers to demanding solos, duets and pas de quatres, ROMEO AND JULIET is nearly three hours of non-stop dance storytelling at its finest.
As the tragic leads, Côté and Lobsanova bring a sweetness to the star-crossed lovers that's unmissable. Côté is a dreamy, romantic Romeo, and exhibits great strength and control even while showing a character who throws caution to the wind in favour of true love. As a counter, Lobsanova's Juliet seems more grounded in reality; she understands her position and why her parents expect her to marry the aristocratic Paris (Ben Rudisin), but at her core she's a teenager in love. Her transition from bouncy, childlike movement and expression to a more sombre, grounded girl dealing with grief is captivating, and her chemistry with Côté makes their shared dance pieces completely convincing in their sincerity.
Despite the tragedy inherent in ROMEO AND JULIET, comedic relief is in full supply in the form of Romeo's friends Mercutio (Jack Bertinshaw) and Benvolio (Skylar Campbell). The three of them together is the epitome of "boys will be boys," with plenty of taunting, horsing around, and a few moments of sincerety that highlight their friendship. Bertinshaw is a scene stealer as the outgoing, loudmouthed (he might not actually speak here, but his actions say plenty for him) and Campbell fills in nicely as the more subtle, reasonable figure in the trio. Among the acted portions of their roles, the two have great chemistry with Côté in shared dance scenes that highlight the technicality of the choreography and the bond between the boys.
On Juliet's side of the family, a great foil to Romeo's romantic actions is her cousin Tybalt (Piotr Stanczyk), a skilled swordsman who never passes the opportunity to fight for his family. Stanczyk dances the role with all the pomp needed to portray Tybalt's holier-than-thou attitude, and is an effective counter to the goofiness of Bertinshaw's Mercutio. The only real source of familial care Juliet gets is from her nurse (Lorna Geddes), who is a delight each time she steps on stage. Geddes has the comedic elements of the character down pat, and brings a huge amount of compassion to a story full of needless bloodshed.
Sets (Richard Hudson) are extravagant without being overwhelming, and costumes (Hudson) are elegant while maintaining their practicality. Sergei Prokofiev's layered score is conducted beautifully by David Briskin, who ensures that the more sinister musical themes never fully overwhelm the sweeter ones, with the melding of the two ideas setting the tone for the production from the first overture.
It's a household story told in a way that removes most of what has made it so famous; of course, ROMEO AND JULIET is very different without the words of Shakespeare doing the storytelling. What the National Ballet has managed to do with this production, though, is separate the plot of the story and retell it in a way that's still incredibly emotional - a transition that can't have been easy to make, but that comes across as naturally as a spoken-theatrical production of the same story.
The National Ballet of Canada's ROMEO AND JULIET ran through March 13 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St W, Toronto, ON.
For more information, visit https://national.ballet.ca/Productions/2019-20-Season/Romeo-and-Juliet
Photo credit: Bruce Zinger