ROMEO AND JULIET choreography by Alexei Ratmansky (National Ballet of Canada). At the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen West). Wednesday (November 16) to November 27, Tuesday-Saturday 7:30 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2 pm. $25-?$234. nationalballet.ca. See listing.
For the first time in almost 50 years, the National Ballet is updating its classic staging of Romeo And Juliet.
We're not talking a Baz Luhrmann-style overhaul here - the score is still Prokofiev and the style remains early Renaissance. But thanks to efforts of artistic director Karen Kain, Alexei Ratmansky, one of ballet's most sought-after choreographers, has completely reworked John Cranko's classic choreography.
"In the original version, there were a lot of what we call ‘empty scenes,'" says featured soloist Elena Lobsanova, one of the production's Juliets, who dances with Guillaume Côté's Romeo. "That's not really a nice way to put it, but there were lots of times when we didn't dance.
"In this version, Alexei uses almost every note for a step to convey meaning. He's filled out the score with his choreography, so there's a lot more movement and depth."
Moscow-born Lobsanova, who trained at the National Ballet School and was promoted to first soloist just this year, first worked with Ratmansky in the National's production of his Russian Seasons. Internationally respected for his commitment to classical technique, Ratmansky is also always ready to explore new possibilities in ballet.
"In rehearsal he's very creative and spontaneous," says Lobsanova. "He's like, ‘Okay, how about this? No, that looks weird. Let's try that again, but how about in this way?' It's really exciting to work with him, and we all try to contribute ideas."
So what will the new choreography look like?
"He's using a lot of turns for me, and a lot of jumps for [Romeo]," she explains. "Alexei favours a kind of organic, twisty look. He works from the traditional Russian folk theme, so he uses a lot of port de bras that emphasize the bravura that Russians really liked in their early ballets. And obviously there's lots of passion in his choreography."
Lobsanova notes that one of Ratmansky's challenges has been to utilize every dancer in the company.
"Karen told him that our old version didn't use all of the dancers, and he's got this huge talent for giving a dancing role to everybody onstage."
Lobsanova admits that his commitment to giving everybody something to do has slowed the pace of creation.
"Some plenary scenes - like one set in a bustling Verona market - are still in the works. He's still busy creating."
However, she has no doubt everything will be perfect by opening night. It will be, she says, "a new and completely moving experience."