Romeo and Juliet ballet dazzles on Toronto stage

Nov 26, 2015 | Arts, Life

Matthew Pariselli and Sarah Trumbley

Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s famed tragedy Romeo and Juliet brought Toronto audience members to their feet with its opening night on Wednesday.

Michael Crabb, the Toronto Star’s dance critic, was impressed.

“It was a very strong production. Although Romeo and Juliet provides lots of wonderful featured roles, obviously the titled characters principally, the production is designed as and performed as an ensemble ballet. Everyone on stage is crucial to the effect of the unfolding drama,” he said.

“They work in synergy with the featured dancers.”

“Its virtues are clear storytelling, a faithfulness to the spirit of Shakespeare’s play, although there are minor tweakings of the plot, and it’s full of wonderfully inventive choreography. Classical ballet with a contemporary energy and contemporary complexity,” Crabb said.

Liz Ostil, who has been selected to review ballets for The Dance Current Magazine, praised the production’s use of Sergei Prokofiev’s traditional score.

“Although the choreography has changed, it’s always a pleasure to know that the richness of Prokofiev’s music stayed the same,” she said.

Ostil said she was particularly moved by the music employed during the pivotal balcony scene.

The scene “remains the most intimate part of the entire ballet, easily bringing tears to my eyes no matter how many times I watch it,” she told Humber News on Thursday.

Guillaume Côté, a principal dancer with the National Ballet, stepped into the role of Romeo.

Côté made his dramatic return to the stage after 11 months away with Wednesday evening’s performance.

He tore his anterior cruciate ligament playing Peter in a December 2014 production of The Nutcracker in Toronto.

“He used to dance it like a race horse out of the gate. He was a young man and just bolted through it. It was very suitable for the age he was. Now at 34, and having to take account of the fact that he sustained a serious injury, I can tell it’s … more calculating and measured,” Crabb said.

“The bottom line is it was an incredibly compelling and dramatically convincing performance.”

Côté is scheduled to dance the role of Romeo on the evenings of Nov. 28 and Dec. 5.

Principal dancer Elena Lobsanova, meanwhile, portrayed Juliet in Wednesday’s production and will again play her alongside Côté.

Ostil said she was “delighted to see an all-star cast” amassed for the production, giving special praise to Lobsanova.

“Elena Lobsanova as Juliet lives and breathes her character on stage. She is light on her feet, playful, and her face lights up with a freshness that only a girl madly in love would have,” she said.

Côté’s wife, fellow principal dancer Heather Ogden, will play Juliet in the Nov. 26 and 29 performances.

Karen Kain, the ballet’s artistic director, invited Ratmansky to create a new adaptation of the play in 2011 to celebrate the company’s 60th anniversary.

The production was met with critical acclaim at the time and it toured in Ottawa, London, and Los Angeles. Romeo and Juliet is Ratmansky’s first work for the National Ballet and runs until Dec. 5 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.