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The National Ballet of Canada

'Romeo and Juliet'

by Stuart Sweeney

April 21, 2013 -- Sadler's Wells Theatre, London, UK

It's 26 years since NBoC visited London and they returned with an enticing calling card – a new production of Romeo and Juliet by Alexei Ratmansky, one of the most successful ballet choreographers around. NBoC Artistic Director, Karen Kain, felt the need of a replacement for John Cranko's version as “...there is very little dancing except for the lovers,” and Ratmansky accepted the challenge.

The corps certainly get a great deal to dance, on a stripped down stage without the vegetables, stalls and brooms of MacMillan's realistic portrayal, and Ratmansky's steps and patterns are always interesting. However, the context for the ensemble work is often missing compared with other productions; for instance there is no wedding scene in Act II. Another separation from the MacMillan version are the choreographed sword fights, where the fencers sometimes look as though they are performing solo variations. The sets by Richard Hudson leave acres of space for dance, and I particularly admired Verona's castle and it's basis on the real thing, which by chance I visited a few days before.

Ratmansky's story telling is very clear and he also puts his own stamp on the narrative: Romeo's opening infatuation with Rosaline disappears; Juliet wakes in the tomb before Romeo dies, so their final duet doesn't have a dead girl on pointe; the final scene follows Shakespeare with the remorseful Friar explaining what has gone wrong and the reconciliation of the two warring families.

Romeo is a fun loving youth, but right from the start shows that something is missing from his life. Guillaume Côté paints a picture of him as boyish and charming, but with little charisma. Probably his weakest moment is the separation from Juliet, when it almost feels as if he is late for the office. However, he dances with flair and precision. As Juliet, Heather Ogden looks rather stiff in the early scenes, but comes into her own after the separation from Romeo, where her heartfelt anguish at her lonely fate kept me on the edge of my seat. Their ball scenes and the balcony pas de deux are beautiful and romantic. As is often the case Mercutio steals his scenes,with Piotr Stanczk projecting a strong, mischievous persona, emphasised by his bold attack. Jiri Jelinek as Tybalt has the shortest temper in living memory, but adds to the dramatic weight of the production with his animosity to Romeo.
As always, there was Prokofiev's rich and expressive score – my favourite from the ballet rep, and The Royal Ballet Sinfonia brought the music to full life. Overall, an enjoyable production, but perhaps not one of Ratmansky's most memorable and without the grandeur of MacMillan or the intensity of Preljocaj.

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