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The Pick: Romeo and Juliet, a ballet where the drama lives up to the dancing

The Pick: Romeo and Juliet, a ballet where the drama lives up to the dancing
Guillaume Côté and Elena Lobsanova in Romeo and Juliet (Image: Bruce Zinger)

Romeo and Juliet might seem all played out, but the tired story comes roaring back to life with sensational vigor in the National Ballet’s new production by Alexei Ratmansky. The ballet, set to Prokofiev’s lyrical score, bursts with the young choreographer’s infectious energy—the ensemble and fight scenes draw just as much from boisterous Russian folk dance as from classical technique.

But Ratmansky is at his best when he’s using the play’s dramatic antics to show the audience what ballet can do, using exuberant fight scenes, elaborate ensemble sequences and clever conceits. The convoluted poison plot, for example, is dramatized through the elegant use of a scrim and silhouetted dancers. And after being fatally stabbed, Mercutio can’t resist one final blaze of glory: although clearly in abject pain, he launches into a macabre solo full of leaps and spins before succumbing to his wounds.

Most impressively, Ratmansky’s characterization of Juliet spurns the delicate prettiness that comes with most ballerina roles: in Ratmansky’s version, she’s a heroine to root for. First soloist Elena Lobsanova, one of five dancers taking up the role, is radiant in her first scene with the Nurse. With a sprightly panache, she flits across the stage, all giggles and nervous energy. After the couple is separated, there’s an eerie dream sequence added by Ratmansky in which Juliet starts to lose her grip, followed by a soap opera–worthy confrontation with her parents that highlights her youthful petulance and unflinching stubbornness. Ratmansky’s done something rare: he’s created a ballet where the drama is as thrilling as the dancing.

The details: To Nov 27. $25­–$244. Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St. W., 416-345-9595, national.ballet.ca

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