When the opportunity came up to review Live in Limbo’s first dance show, it was a no-brainer to say yes to this amazing idea. With tickets in hand to see the premier of The National Ballet of Canada’s production of Romeo and Juliet, I embarked to quite possibly Toronto’s finest theatre, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Only once before had I seen a ballet, Rooster a show that set dance to Rolling Stones songs, back in 2008, so needless to say I was nervously excited.
Whether you are a fan of the ballet or not, it is impossible not to be blown away by the set and costume design used in the production. Using a mix of German impressionist angels and forced perspective to make the set look even bigger on the massive stage was an artist engineering feat of great marvel. For the masquerade ball sequence a long table, one that almost stretched across the entire back of the stage was angled downwards so the audience could see the playful feast on the table. Behind the table was a hallway like bridge that was nearly invisible except for the openings for the arches so playful Romeo and his friends Mercutio and Benvolio could spy of the guests at the party. Speaking of the guests, they were decked out in the finest costumes I have ever seen in my extensive theatre going days, including anything seen at the Stratford or Shaw festivals. With each rank in class, the performers wore more and more luxurious outfits. The women wore long flowing dresses of the richest materials while the men’s robes exuded power and intensity. The younger males wore form-fitting tights and blouses while the ladies wore shorter dresses of various materials to showcase their different levels on the social ladder. Richard Hudson who famously created the sets for The Lion King shows no sign or slowing down by pulling double duty in both the set and costume design departments.
The story is so well known it would be a waste of energy to rehash it all, if you are one of the few people who have not read or seen one of the many adaptations of William Shakespeare’s most famous play I will keep it brief. A young man and woman from opposing warring families in an Italian city fall in love. Except that their love can never be and tragically both take their lives due to the forbidden nature of their romance. Seriously, if you haven’t seen it yet, get on it! Guillaume Côté, a Quebec dancer who makes his return to the stage following a year off due to a horrific injury where he tore a ligament in his leg, played Romeo. Elena Lobsanova from Moscow is a recently promoted leading lady, plays Juliet. The two leads dance beautifully together as they convince the audience that they are the teenaged characters they are playing.
High marks go to Lobsanova, who (along with only her characters friends) are the only dancers who do pointe making her stand out and float on her toes like a carefree butterfly. To ensure that Juliet has the vigor of youth, the rest of the performers are successful in infantilizing her treating her like the child she is in age and outfitted in mostly babydoll dresses, which contrasts starkly to her mothers floor-length gown. Aiding her youthfulness is that she seems so tiny in her bedroom scenes, as a massive twenty-foot+ four-poster bed complete with equal length curtains is brought in eschewing the regalness of her home while being enveloped by its size.
Côté and his merry band of troublemakers bring a dose of humour and lightness to the otherwise stiff upper crust society he finds himself in. Their dance moves seem to have some subtle undertones of modern and hip-hop cleverly disguised as ballet. When the boys had sword fight scenes they all moved like the reincarnation of a swashbuckling Errol Flynn. The battles add a thrilling layer to break up the monotony of dance if some audience members are not used to a silent performance where the emotions are expressed with kicks and jumps and not monologues and banter.
My one and only real criticism is that during the hand to hand combat fight scenes I wish the males were more blunt and fluid with their moves instead of so pointed and angular, as the bluntness would have a more angry presence, even if it is less “ballet-like”. The rest of the performance was stunning from start to finish. While I am reviewing a show lead by Côté and Lobsanova there are actually four sets of couples that will be performing the show throughout the run, so even if the chorography is the same, the emotions and chemistry will always be slightly different. Tybalt the angry cousin of Juliet played by Evan McKie, exuded a cockiness and surefire attitude that made his character jump out from a much smaller part to one of the most memorable of the show.
The show is made to have the realistic beauty and classical artistic qualities of a Vermeer painting. I haven’t even mentioned the famous Sergei Prokofiev score from 1935 that could easily work as an alternate score to Hans Zimmer’s work on Interstellar.
Simply having seen so many iterations of this classic love story before surely helped in my understanding of the show, but with the intense score, stunning costumes and sets and performances that are confident in the story they are telling, anyone would be able to understand what was going on. Plus in the program there are handy scene breakdowns so any confusion is cleared up fairly easily. Add in the perfectly designed Four Seasons Centre and you have the opportunity to see one of the finest shows ever created. Romeo and Juliet is a masterpiece that cannot be missed.