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Elena Lobsanova and Guillaume Côté perform in the National Ballet of Canada's production of Romeo and Juliet at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto, running until March 22, 2020.

Bruce Zinger/The National Ballet of Canada

Last night at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto, Elena Lobsanova reprised her role of Juliet in the National Ballet of Canada’s production of Romeo and Juliet. She could not have danced more beautifully. It is a pity, then, that this version, created by Alexei Ratmansky in 2011 for the National Ballet, is not a better vehicle to showcase her talent.

The ballet opens to a morning in Renaissance Verona, with looming terracotta architecture. The sets are grand and austere, and I think the sheer scale of them may be responsible for the lack of emotional resonance. The dancers seem distanced in spite of their well-rehearsed and often lovely delivery. This is particularly the case for the pas de deux, which should be at the heart of the ballet – and yet heart is just what is lacking.

Our first glimpses of the two feuding houses, the Montagues and Capulets, is a bit of a wash, with only subtle differences in costuming to identify the clans. While the initial clash involves a satisfying amount of swordplay, the dichotomy is insufficiently drawn out in a cast uniformly dressed in muted tones.

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Still, the set and costumes are not entirely responsible for the flatness of this Romeo and Juliet.

The sets yield to the choreography to tell the tragic tale of these star-crossed lovers. And there is a monotony to the choreography – filled with folk accents (more of the Russian variety – in Verona?) and non-stop action that seems to want to hit every note of Sergei Prokofiev’s gorgeous score – that simply doesn’t enliven the tale.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the pas de deux between Juliet and her Romeo, danced on opening night by principal Guillaume Côté. The balcony scene – the musical high point of the ballet at least – is a flurry of action, breathless and giddy. It is, perhaps, reflective of the impatience of young love. But Ratmansky’s feverish rendering allows no time for Lobsanova to fully extend into her dancing, whipped out of her deep penchée and whisked from the balance point all too soon.

And hers was the kind of dancing to savour: From Juliet’s playful opening solo with her Nurse (Lorna Geddes), Lobsanova danced with incredible lightness and a fluid grace, making the complexity of the steps melt away. It makes you wish the production itself had half the radiance of its star.

The dances for the ensemble fare better, with Ratmansky expertly moving the groups around the stage to strong effect. Personalities emerge from the citizens of Verona without looking for them, and there is depth in the reaction to the bloodshed. Piotr Stanczyk brings the menace as an outstanding Tybalt, and Jack Bertinshaw was tremendous as the clowning Mercutio, pinning tricky turn and jump sequences down and still playing the fool. The dancers clearly revel in portraying their characters – and even the challenge of working Ratmansky’s complex statements to the magnificent energy of Prokofiev.

Find out what’s new on Canadian stages from Globe theatre critic J. Kelly Nestruck in the weekly Nestruck on Theatre newsletter. Sign up today.

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