Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); }

Celebrated choreographer Alexei Ratmansky emphasizes dancing over pantomime in a fresh retelling of Romeo and Juliet.

Bruce Zinger

Romeo and Juliet
The National Ballet of Canada
Four Seasons Centre
Runs Until
Saturday, December 05, 2015

Romeo and Juliet is generally considered Prokofiev's first masterpiece. The composer left Russia after the revolution, but he allegedly never felt at ease with the West's musical fixation on the avant-garde. Russia was clearly on his mind when he sat down, in 1935, to adapt Shakespeare's archetypal story of ill-fated teenage love. While his orchestration incorporates Italianate instruments such as the viola d'amore and the mandolin, there is an unmistakable feeling of the motherland in the force, darkness and drama of the music.

On my way into Toronto's Four Seasons Centre on Wednesday night, where the National Ballet is remounting their stunning 2011 version of the work, I ran into an older balletomane. "Another Romeo and Juliet closer to death," he said with a wink. It's a sentiment we can all share in – R&J has been staged, danced, sung, filmed, reinterpreted, re-imagined in thousands of both likely and unlikely iterations. What more do we want out of this 400-year-old tale of lust, warring families, and suicides for him and her?

I have two answers to this question. The first is Alexei Ratmansky. A MacArthur Fellow (a.k.a. the "Genius Grant") who was formerly head of the Bolshoi Ballet and is now artist-in-residence at the American Ballet Theatre, Ratmansky understands ballet in a way that feels both elemental and intricate. One of my ongoing grievances with remounting story ballets is it forces audiences to put up with dated pantomime – the constant juxtaposition of silent, melodramatic acting and choreography. By shunning straightforward verisimilitude, Ratmansky seems set on rectifying this. He knows what Prokofiev's score can express about the highs (and lows) of love; better yet, he knows how to let this come to life fully and provocatively inside the body.

Story continues below advertisement

Instead of having town scenes in which Capulets and Montagues act out their hostility, Ratmansky conjures the fiery, antagonistic mood of Verona by having his dancers dance. Configurations of couples, the women sliding into stylish, precarious side bends, move across the stage in downward diagonals. Then, a repeated movement acts as a playful challenge between camps. The dancers stomp their turned-in feet in quick succession, followed by a syncopated unfurling of both arms. It has a modern-dance feeling (a little Jose Limon) and conveys the defensive/irreverent undercurrent of a community accustomed to violence.

Then, there's Ratmansky's beautiful evocation of love at first sight. Instead of having Romeo and Juliet frozen, centre stage, staring at each other, he has Romeo reappear in front of Juliet at different positions on stage. Both the figurative and the literal are at play in this choice: Is Romeo following Juliet around the room, or this is an externalization of what it feels like when you can't stop staring? Sweeping, complex ensemble work creates the effect of time passing and, sometimes, of moving across distances. My favourite example is the Act 3 sequence that depicts Romeo's banishment to Mantua. Juliet appears to him as a tremulous ghost in white, but then this ghost becomes real, and Juliet is suddenly in Verona, pursuing her own desperate journey to Friar Laurence. When she arrives, there's no pantomime or gesturing to stand in for conversation; the Friar simply lifts Juliet high above his head, her body suspended in a perfect crescent. It's a stunning request for help, an act of total supplication. This is ballet's strength, its ability to distill narrative and emotion through shape and movement, to let the real and oneiric overlap.

Richard Hudson's earthy, colourful set and costume designs work in perfect concert with Ratmansky's textured choreography. Hudson gives us huge, minimalist shapes – an austere citadel, a vault with giant arches – then offsets them with detailed costumes – embroidered roundlets, velveteen caps and tunics in ochre, burgundy and navy. The Capulet ball, with its arched gallery and rich brocades, is like being airlifted into the early renaissance. Since Ratmansky's ensemble scenes incorporate so much disparate but simultaneous detail, the effect is like a Bruegel painting come to life. Everywhere you look, you see tiny, quotidian drama.

But, for me, the best parts of Ratmansky's ballet are the slippery pas de deux between the young lovers. He makes use of the whole body, of all levels, of deep relinquishing back bends and mellifluous petit adagio. As Romeo, Guillaume Côté (just back from a serious knee injury) is both powerful and soft, with flawless lines, dynamic jumps and unwaveringly clear intentions. The fantastic performances go on, with Evan McKie as the most terrifyingly commanding Tybalt I've ever seen, and Skylar Campbell vivifying the tragicomic balance that is Mercutio.

All this leads me to that second thing we still want, in 2015, from Romeo and Juliet. The answer is Elena Lobsanova. Just promoted to principal dancer, she is one of those uncompromising performers who refuse to force anything (I find that ingénue roles often elicit too much smiling, too much sweetness). Forget, for a moment, Lobsanova's gorgeous extensions, powerful feet and expansive port de bras; when she runs downstage in the balcony duet she is really running; when Romeo supports her in an arabesque, she is both executing that arabesque and, it seems, becoming it. Critics have praised her moving vulnerability in the role, but I saw much more than that. I saw all the rage, courage and unbending desire that Shakespeare wrote for his heroine in those long, killer soliloquies.

Romeo and Juliet continues at Toronto's Four Seasons Centre until Dec. 5, and will be restaged from March 16 to 20

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies