ROMEO AND JULIET choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky (National Ballet of Canada). At the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West). To November 27. $25-$234. 416-345-9595. See listing. Rating: NNN
There's a reason why John Cranko's choreography for Romeo And Juliet remained in the National Ballet of Canada's repertoire for decades. It was powerful.
Not everything worked, mind you - those street scenes could get hokey - but the man knew how to capture character and drama in movement. The same can't be said of Alexei Ratmansky, whose new version opens the National's 60th season.
Don't get me wrong. The young Russian choreographer has talent, which we got to see in his recent elegant short ballet Russian Seasons. And there are glimpses of brilliance in his R&J, from the youthful, energetic scenes for Romeo's pals to the can't-stop-looking-at-each-other infatuation of the title characters, whose young love is captured in a heartbreakingly tender early pas de deux.
What Ratmansky fails to do, however, is find a way to suggest the pair's maturity and growth. By the beginning of act three, Cranko's couple are full-blown adults, their post-coital bedroom duet - with Juliet's pointe shoes literally dragging on the floor - a vision of hopeless romantic longing. Ratmansky's version shows them merely sad, with repeated lifts and twirls that could have come any time earlier.
Another scene that suffers is the Dance Of The Knights, performed to Prokofiev's menacing music and rendered in Cranko's version with a grand majestic sweep. Ratmansky intriguingly plays up the violence in the court - the men wield swords - but the scene looks thin and insubstantial. Certainly Richard Hudson's costumes don't add to the effect. (Speaking of costumes, it's hard to tell the warring Capulets from the Montagues, which I figure should be a no-brainer.)
That said, the National's opening- night cast performed their roles well, Guillaume Côté and Elena Lobsanova believable in their ardour, their partnering graceful and fluid. (Shame about Lobsanova's fall in the first act.) Piotr Stanczyk handled the physical and emotional demands of Mercutio with ease on Hudson's clean, unfussy set.
I'd mention other performers, but Radmansky's choreography doesn't allow for much secondary character development. He even robs Lady Capulet of her melodramatic Act II exit, replacing it with something that's still watchable - but not nearly as theatrical.