National Ballet of Canada

John Cranko's "Romeo & Juliet"

Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver, BC

October 12, 2001
By Francis Timlin

I was pleased to attend the performance in Vancouver on Saturday, September 29. This production was restaged for the National Ballet of Canada by former Aristic Director (and Vancouver native son) Reid Anderson, the current Artistic Director of the Stuttgart Ballet (a principal repository of John Cranko's choreography) and formerly a dancer with that company. Mr. Anderson worked from a Benesh Notation version produced in 1993 by Jane Bourne for this 1995 realization. The overall production values are superb, with sets and costumes designed by Susan Benson and lighting design by Robert Thomson. The production has a quality of luxury overshadowed by doom; perhaps this is the reason for the preponderance of sombre, autumnal colors (deep gold, orange, red, ochre, aubergine and brown) in the well-integrated set and costume designs.

Of the several versions of Romeo & Juliet set to the Prokofiev score, I find this version from 1962, by John Cranko, to be among the most satisfying. Among the many choreographic unifying devices, I find his use of leitmotivic movement as a means of underscoring a character or amplifying a dramatic situation to be most compelling. For example, there are movements associated only with Mercutio, others with Romeo, still others with Tybalt. Far from being repetitive, the appearance and reappearance of these motifs serves to foreshadow and recollect dramatic situations, in much the same way that Wagner utilized them in The Ring. As a result, I believe that the choreographer has supplied much of the character and dramatic development necessary for the realization of the story within the choreography itself.

That is not to say that there is no room for dramatic interpretation or further character delineation on the part of the performers, rather, that the quality of the marriage of movement and drama is very high in Cranko's realization.

There were three performances presented in Vancouver. All were sold out; matinees could easily have been added. However, many sets of principals were not in evidence here. No Chan Hon Goh (in DC with Suzanne Farrell's company), no Greta Hodgkinson, no Geon Van der Wyst. We were treated (both on the opening Thursday and the Saturday that I attended) to the partnership of Sonia Rodriguez and Aleksandar Antoniejevic, both of whom delivered peak performances, aided by Rex Harrington as an exceptionally malevolent Tybalt; Richard Landry and Philip Lau as tremendously high jumpers with wonderful ballon as Mercutio and Benvolio, respectively; and Guillaume Cote in the brief role of Count Paris.

Karen Kain made her debut as Lady Capulet at the Thursday and Friday performances in Vancouver; much as I would have enjoyed the pleasure of seeing her onstage again, I was not at all disappointed at seeing Victoria Bertram's tour de force in this role.

The orchestra, conducted by Ormsby Wilkins, was comprised of principals from Toronto supplemented by local musicians. Prokofiev was well served on this occasion.

Pre and post-performance receptions sponsored by teckcominco and RBC Investments provided those of us not on the invitation list with an up--close glimpse at the dancers and directors and an overheard snatch of conversation or two as they made their way to and from the receptions. Among them, Karen Kain, animated, engaging and immediately captivating everyone's attention in the lobby.

We also had first pick of the National Ballet of Canada 50th Anniversary souvenir books at the gift stand; well worth the CDN$20 for anyone with even a passing interest in this company.

I regret that National Ballet of Canada comes no more frequently than once every other year, but look forward to September 2003.


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Edited by Marie.

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