Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Romeo and Juliet: The Prokofiev Ballet

Part of the National Ballet of Canada's 60th anniversary season includes a newly choreographed, and hence world premiere, of Romeo and Juliet which I saw on Nov 20, 2011.  The choreographer is Alexei Ratmanky and it was enchanting.

My opinion of Prokofiev, based on very limited experience with his music, is that his best work is in ballet, and Romeo and Juliet trumps his score to Cinderella.  Maybe if dance was put to Symphony #5 (the only other of his works I've listened to in its entirety) I'd appreciate it more as well.

Heather and McGee as Romeo and Juliet
The cast I saw included first soloist McGee Maddox as a buff, sexy Romeo, who lifted his Juliet like a doll.  He seems to have a number of lead roles this season (he's also the Prince in the upcoming Nutcracker) so perhaps a principal dancer promotion is in his future.  From what I saw, I'd say it's well earned.  Heather Ogden is beautiful and portrayed a dainty, naive Juliet.  You could believe the character development from the lighthearted playing with Lady Capulet (Joanna Ivey) and her Nurse (Alejandra Perez-Gomez) at the start to the desperately in love and heartbroken women by the finale.

The costumes were of the early Renaissance period with the ladies in long dresses and the men in puffy sleeved, rich fabric short shirt/jackets and leggings.  In one of the crowd scenes the women appeared to float across the stage since their feet were hidden and they moved so smoothly.  Really an incredible effect!

I'll just mention a few of dance highlights.  In Act 1 Romeo and his friends, Mercutio (Jonathan Renna) and Benvolio (Christopher Stalzer), attempt to sneak into the ball held by the Capulets.  The costumes with each leg of their pants a different colour added an element of humour, as did the music.  They danced all together, in pairs, and in and around each other, wearing masks of course.  Nothing at all sissy about these guys!

The balcony scene pas de deux in Act 2, obviously one of the most famous scenes in any Shakespeare play, was danced as a true partnership.  The man's job included more than just showing off the ballerina and included a variety of steps.  It was like the choreographer knew which ones would make me think "oh that was so neat, let's see it again" and repeated most of those moments.

Near the beginning of Act 2, where there's a townspeople scene that included dancers credited as Carnival Men.  These were 4 guys dressed in black and white and danced to a section of music that had a wicked clarinet part!  Apparently it's called "Dance with the Mandolins" Watching the clarinetists in the pit was amazing.  It was fast, and short, and so precisely played!

The sword fighting was another highlight.  Tybalt was played by principal dancer Jiri Jelinek, and you couldn't ask for a better personification.  You could tell he meant business just by the way he strutted across the stage.  It took several draws of his sword before I realized there was no sheath, yet just the way he held in by his side in one hand, it looked like it actually was hanging and he was just resting his hand on the hilt.  Jonathan Renna also acted his character well.  In fact he received a very loud ovation at the end.  He was witty and taunting towards Tybalt when fighting, just asking for it!  His first death scene was long, drawn out, very stereotypical milking the moment on stage.  It completely suited the fact that shortly after he jumped right up again as if to say "rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated".  When he was finally killed, it was a less melodramic.

The thrust that kills Tybalt was exceptionally realistic.  A bit of the magic was lost in that he could be seen visibly breathing after he was dead.  Romeo and Juliet on the other head were completely still when they died.  Although they hadn't just danced quite as demanding a scene.  I don't recall in the play where they are actually alive at the same time in the vault.  I was expecting Romeo to find Juliet, expect that she really was dead, drink poison and die.  Then Juliet was to awaken, find him dead and stab herself.  However, after Romeo has poisoned himself but before he dies Juliet woke up.  Talk about a heart breaking moment when you realize you jumped the gun, could have lived happily ever after, and yet are dying.  The poignancy of the moment wasn't lost on the audience.

The final bows begin with Heather and McGee which was a nice touch, reassuring anyone unfamiliar with the story (is there anyone still out there like that?) or any children (there were quite a few in the audience) who might think they were really dead, that all is well.
Juliet's Bedroom scene (national.ballet.ca)
A wonderful afternoon at the ballet was had by all, even if the Four Seasons Centre was quite cold.  I think they could do with turning up the heat/down the air conditioning.  The draft at my feet left them frigid.

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