National Ballet of Canada: Ratmansky's "Romeo and Juliet"
Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
November 16–27, 2011
Performances reviewed: Nov. 26, matinee & evening
If you go to this new Romeo and Juliet expecting to see your favorite moments, like The First Kiss, or Lady Capulet going crazy over Tybalt’s death, you won’t find them. There’s no big swooping cape for Romeo, and no skimming down the balcony stairs for Juliet. Instead Ratmansky spreads the drama throughout the ballet, spinning an even more epic tale than usual. In his eyes—and in his dance-making hands—the ballet is not only about the love-struck teenagers, but also about the long lasting, less-than-ideal, fraught-but-forgiving love between Lady and Lord Capulet.
Ratmansky gives each character a through line. From our first sighting of Romeo, he’s a dreamer. With his head in a book, he’s inspired by what he reads there (presumably love poems). As he looks up from its pages, you know he’s thinking lofty thoughts.
The Friar has a story too. At first he does not want to marry the two lovebirds from feuding families—he gestures with knuckles against knuckles. But then his fists soften, and he shows how he thinks the warring factions could be healed through this union. He also has more interaction with both Romeo and Juliet, and in the final scene, he beats his chest for his part in the tragedy.
The greatest difference in the plot is that in the crypt scene, Romeo gulps down some poison when he sees the lifeless Juliet in the morgue. She awakens just in time to see the life draining out of him. As she regains her strength, he loses his. It’s quite powerful.
Ratmansky’s sure choreographic touch comes through in myriad ways. At the ball, after Romeo and Juliet have met, Paris lifts her because after all, he’s her official date. At the same time, Mercutio and Benvolio lift Romeo, so the two soon-to-be lovers float along side by side in the air. A surprising, magical moment.
Another nice touch is that in the balcony pas de deux, wedged into the sweeping and swooning lifts, Ratmansky includes some unison glides and port de bras. Those steps suggest that the two are heading in the same direction; they’re on the same wave length.
For me, one of the choreographic weakness came during the Capulet-led dance at the ball. In the MacMillan and Cranko versions, the family, drenched in the trappings of their own power, step downstage in a flank to the hauntingly heavy music. The ballroom becomes a fortress of old money; the purpose of the dance is to consolidate power in the family. But Ratmansky has choreographed a mock sword fight to this magnificent music instead. (I’m told that Prokofiev’s score calls this scene the “dance of the knights.”) It has become a more obvious display of power, an ode to the sword, instead of the insidious, violence-just-under-the-surface feeling of the older versions. Ratmansky’s diagonal swordplay looked light, flimsy compared to the menacing quality of the music.
Another iffy spot was in the Friar’s cell. Traditionally the simplicity of this setting serves as a moral oasis, set off from profane society. But Ratmansky has the two lovers reprising a bit of their pas de deux, crowding the friar’s small room with dance steps.
The sets by Richard Hudson neither take us back to the Renaissance nor force us into the present day (like Peter Martins’ version with its in-your-face-modern designs by Per Kirkeby). Some of Hudson’s costumes are slightly cartoonish—different colored legs for the village guys, big jumpers for the girls. They are based on 15th-century frescoes, but they looked just a tad too Oklahoma! to me. Jennifer Tipton’s sensitive lighting turned the sky blood red after the killings of Mercutio and Tybalt.
The first cast was so good, and the story so well told, that my knees were shaking after the matinee. Guillaume Côté was a romantic, dreamy Romeo, and Elena Lobsanova an innocent, lovely, vulnerable Juliet. Côté’s chest would swell in his solos, and the two seemed to breathe together as they soared and melted in the balcony pas de deux. In the last scene Lobsanova joyously took Côté by the hand to run out of the crypt—but then he suddenly staggered to the ground. It caught at your heart.
Greta Hodgkinson, who was second cast as Juliet, is a sharper, more authoritative dancer than Lobsanova. Always clear and full out, she seemed more worried than hopelessly in love. And when she stabbed herself, she did not exactly plunge the knife into her heart. Rather it was a cautious act. But earlier, when she was forced to dance with Paris, her eyes burned bright with resentment, making me want to see her mad scene in Giselle. Her Romeo, Aleksandar Antonijevic, was fine but a bit bland.
In this version the feverish desire of the young lovers is contrasted to the distant feeling between Juliet’s parents. The older couple’s relationship is poisoned by patriarchy and frozen by formality, but a deep patience toward each other has made their life together possible. Lord Capulet tries to soothe her as she grieves for Tybalt—which could not have been a fun thing for him to witness. At the end, over the grim discovery of Romeo and Juliet dead in each other’s arms, Lord Capulet kneels to ask for his Lady’s forgiveness. He takes the blame and she has the power to forgive. As the lights dim, she lays a hand on his bowed head. It’s as good as anything Romeo read in that little book of love poems.
Photos by Bruce Zinger, courtesy NBC. Guillaume Côté as Romeo, Elena Lobsanova as Juliet, Etienne Lavigne as Lord Capulet, and Joanna Ivey as Lady Capulet in Alexei Ratmansky's Romeo and Juliet.
When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."
But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.
From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.
New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped), which examines the monstrosities of power.
A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.
Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.
In San Francisco, choreographer Margaret Jenkins facilitated a panel of artists about the role of activism within their work.
Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.
"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.
After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.
Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org
In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."
She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."
Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.
Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.
Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."
It is a great tragedy for dance history that iconic ballet partnerships like Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev or Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov weren't able to document their backstage shenanigans on social media. (Okay, maybe not a great tragedy, but you have to admit that you're curious.)
Lucky for us, that isn't the case with today's star dancers—like American Ballet Theatre principal dancers Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside, aka The Cindies. These two aren't just onstage partners. They're serious #BestieGoals. Our evidence, as documented on Instagram, is as follows:
When London-based perfume company The Beautiful Mind Series was looking for a collaborator for their next scent, they skipped the usual celebrity set and brought in prima ballerina Polina Semionova instead. "I was fascinated by what goes on in the mind of a great dancer," perfumer Geza Schoen said in a press release. Semionova's ballet-inspired scent, Precision & Grace, celebrates the intelligence and beauty behind her craft.
Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series
The ever-so-busy Kyle Abraham is back in New York City for a brief visit with his company Abraham.In.Motion as they prepare for an exciting spring season of new endeavors with some surprising guests. The company will be debuting a new program at The Joyce Theater on May 1, that will include two new pieces from Abraham, restaged works by Doug Varone and Bebe Miller, and a world premiere from Andrea Miller. Talk about an exciting line-up!
We caught up with Abraham during a recent rehearsal where he revealed what he is tired of hearing in the dance community.
Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.
Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?
If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.
"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."
I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."
It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.
Everyone knows that community college is an affordable option if a four-year school isn't in the cards. But it can also be a solid foundation for a career in the dance field. Whether students want an associate in arts degree as a precursor to obtaining a bachelor's, or to go straight into the performing world, the right two-year dance program can be a uniquely supportive place to train. Don't let negative stereotypes prevent you from attending a program that could be right for you: