Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet could have been made for ballet. Telling the story of a simple love with massive underlying complexity, it mimics ballet’s look of effortlessness, which is only achieved by mastering steps of extreme difficulty. The National Ballet of Canada, on tour at the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles, presents its own Romeo and Juliet, stellar Alexei Ratmansky's creation for the company's 60th anniversary in 2012.  

© Aleksandar Antonijevic
© Aleksandar Antonijevic
For those less familiar with the story, Romeo is a tender young man, driven by his heart and his emotions, while Juliet is a naïve girl who has rarely left the bubble of the house walls. Ratmansky uses these developed characters in telling the story. During certain scenes where I could feel some audience members itching for it to get a move on, others, like myself, fully enjoyed not only the great choreography but also the way it worked on each character's neurosis.

© Aleksanar Antonijevic
© Aleksanar Antonijevic
The choregraphy was fantastic. Contemporary influences were most visible in the market square scenes, which spend a lot of time setting a mood rather than advancing the story. Also, Juliet’s solo scene where she struggles with the decision to take Friar Laurence’s poison and fake her own death is full of fluid contemporary motions that highlight her sense of helplessness. Romeo and Juliet have two lovely pas de deux, when they meet at Juliet’s balcony and again on their wedding night. These dances are youthful and tell the scene better than words could. For the most part the message in the choreography was so clear I almost felt like I was attending the play instead. Though I find dance the best vehicle for communicating larger concepts, I have rarely seen choreography that speaks with as much detail as this.

The dancers also paid great attention to detail, with technique  and stage presence of the quality you’d expect from a company such as National Ballet of Canada. Naoya Ebe as Romeo perfectly embodied a young man in love. Sonia Rodriguez as Juliet was endearing, childish and resolved, as Juliet should be. The most outstanding performance was by Skylar Campbell – a Californian native – as Mercutio. He had the room roaring with laughter and applause for his antics. A great combination of inventive choreography and passionate performance, this Mercutio was the star of the night.

As much as I love drama, funny and entertaining snippets like this make me wish there were more options for ballets that lighten up and make us laugh as well as leaving us in awe.

© Bruce Zinger
© Bruce Zinger

The National Ballet of Canada definitely made another great impression on American audiences tonight. Worth mentioning is the fact that this Canadian company is largely made up of Canadian dancers, a testament to the quality of the dance programs and dance community in this country, a fact that doesn’t automatically come to mind when you think of the international dance scene. Both corps de ballet and soloists gave a full bodied performance, one that I’d gladly attend again. This Romeo and Juliet is a hit!

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