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theatre review

Guillaume Côté and Elena Lobsanova in Romeo and JulietBruce Zinger

Just as Christopher Wheeldon's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland opened touring doors for the National Ballet of Canada to Los Angeles and Washington, Alexei Ratmansky's Romeo and Juliet is taking the company to London, England.

These tours emphasize the importance of having original works in the repertoire by super-hot choreographers that help define a ballet company. Both Wheeldon and Ratmansky have put the National back on the international touring circuit.

As a lead-up to London, the National has Romeo and Juliet on its winter season – a smart move because the ballet is also good for the March break. Everyone from kids to grandma is going to love it.

This new version set to Prokofiev's beloved score debuted in November 2011, and was – like Alice – an instant hit. Distance away from the hype of a premiere allows for a more measured perusal of Ratmansky's vision. And the verdict? The ballet only grows in my admiration.

There are no distinct Montague and Capulet colour-coded camps. Richard Hudson's renaissance costumes are distinct to the individual, not to the house. The young men who die in the fracas that erupts between Tybalt and Mercutio/Benvolio, and which spreads from there to the crowd at large, are collateral damage.

And then there's Hudson's stark set. Whether the ochre-coloured, walled battlements of Verona, or the tomb-like caverns of Friar Lawrence's cell, the architectural contours are oversimplified to the point of being monolithic. They are larger than life, like the unfolding tragedy and its mythic proportions.

In terms of choreography, Ratmansky's greatness lies in his ability to mirror music in dance. There is absolutely no mime. The emotional arc of the characters is cunningly shown in movement. In fact, the music and the dance seem inseparable.

Take Romeo (Guillaume Côté), Mercutio (Piotr Stanczyk) and Benvolio (Robert Stephen). Prokofiev, that master of musical characterization, wrote hijinks into his score describing their lark-about irreverence which Ratmansky has captured perfectly in their playful prancing.

Similarly, when we first meet Romeo, he is alone, and he is clearly in the throes of romance. Every leap and jump, every big swoop of the arms indicate a young man in love with being in love for his Rosaline. When he meets Juliet, these same steps come from the heart. They are not poetic and superficial, but real and heart-felt.

The whole ballet is like this – watching in dance what one is hearing in the music. It's practically uncanny; Ratmansky and Prokofiev become one. It's a joy to behold, aided and abetted by visiting conductor Ormsby Wilkins and the National orchestra.

And then there are the Ratmansky innovations. Like putting back the Dance of the Knights in the Capulet party as Prokofiev intended. Or creating the quartet between Juliet, her parents and Paris, an entangled pavane of emotional undercurrents. Or the acting out of the effects of Friar Lawrence's potion. As the friar (Tomas Schramek) holds Juliet (Elena Lobsanova) to one side, a faux Juliet is awakened by Romeo in the tomb. Or the delightful, mocking dance between Juliet's nurse (Lorna Geddes), Mercutio and Benvolio.

Aging finely, Ratmansky's vision for Romeo and Juliet works on every level.