Royal Winnipeg Ballet
“Romeo + Juliet”
17 January 2013
Northern Jubilee Auditorium
In the realm of ballet music, Prokofiev’s score for “Romeo and Juliet” is one of the most unforgettable. With the return of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet to Edmonton, this haunting music once again filled the expanse of the Royal Jubilee Auditorium. Rudi van Dantzig’s production of ‘Romeo + Juliet’ is one of the company’s signature productions, and on this occasion it was a showpiece for Edmonton native Amanda Green. The company’s sole principal dancer, Green carried a somewhat uneven performance, lifting the ballet to a soaring finale.
While this production did not come to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet until 1981, it was premiered on the Dutch National Ballet in 1967. Despite the program’s claims that van Dantzig was one of the first non-Russians to create new choreography for ‘Romeo + Juliet’, MacMillan, Cranko and Ashton’s versions all came earlier – and clearly influenced his production. van Dantzig’s was created for the smallest cast, and has the feel of a streamlined Cranko version with touches of MacMillan.
The action revolves around Toer van Schayk’s multipurpose sets - soaring brick arches and window frames which with minor additions serve as the rough outline of Verona’s buildings, a ballroom, the outside of the Capulet house, a chapel and Juliet’s bedroom. His costume designs are reminiscent of those from the Cranko production, emphasizing lush, deeply colored fabrics and stumbling only in few instances, most notably Romeo’s poorly fitting and overly bulky tunic.
The current production is weakest in the first act, but grows in drama and power as the evening progresses. The problems of the first act primarily relate to the small cast size – with only 20 dancers (plus a guest and four apprentices) and a set that creates space rather than disguising it - the production depends on young company aspirants and a gaggle of local ballet students to flesh out the scenes. Combined with the relative youth of the company itself, at times it feels like the average of age of Verona is around 12. Though the children are well rehearsed, their constant presence begins to give the production a feeling of a ballet school recital and makes some scenes feel less serious than they should.
It’s not until the children have mostly disappeared from the stage that the production takes on a really professional feel; the difference is palpable in the performance and emotional level of the performance. The evening truly belonged to Amanda Green, who brought a stunning emotional depth to her performance. Her Juliet grew before our eyes from a innocent girl to a passionate young woman, the transition brought to life through Green’s outstanding dancing. Green mixes an appealing delicacy with an attention to detail. She finishes every step without appearing mechanical, creating beautiful pictures as she flows across the stage.
As her Romeo, gust artist Liang Xing started tentatively, but by the balcony scene has evolved into an ardent suitor. A tall, lanky dancer, Liang lacked the same crispness in his movement quality as Green, but made up for it in his near flawless partnering. It felt a shame then, the van Dantzig’s choreography, particularly in the balcony scene, didn’t make the full use of their talents. While sprinkled with soaring lifts, the choreography lacked the breathless, barely in control sense of giddy young love. Despite some beautiful static lifts, the steps often felt restrained. Only at the point when Liang tossed Green up into two fast twists before effortless catching her did it really feel unrestrained. And if you’ve got dancers who can blow through that with nary a hair out of place, it’s shame not to give them more challenges.
Yosuke Mino’s was pleasant enough as Benvolio, but Dmitri Dovgoselets’ Mercutio was a bit of a cipher. Perhaps the strongest male dancer in the company, Dovgoselets blew through all the spins and jumps van Dantzig could throw at him. He also was one of the strongest dance-actors – at least from the neck down. Yet, he seemed to be dancing behind a mask, barely cracking a smile despite all of Mercutio’s antics. Despite this, his deaths scene was one of the most poignant in the production, leading one to wonder if Dovgoselets might have been dancing through an injury and/or through exhaustion from a previous performance as Romeo (he being the only dancer performing Romeo to be cast in another role). Egor Zdor was more than capable of Tylbalt’s bravura choreography, but his interpretation tended to the overly forceful.
The corps, despite a few out of synch moments early on, strengthened as the ballet progressed. One of the highlights was the brilliant Mandolin Dance with a male duo performing a series of near flawless double air turns. Kudos to Olga Malinovskaya, Alanna McAdie, Anna O’Callaghan, and particularly to Ryan Vetter and Luzemberg Santana.
In one of the finest performances of the night, ballet mistress Vanessa Lawson nearly stole the show as the doting, but fussy nurse. As Lady Montague, Tara Birtwhistle also showed the power of experience in creating a character. In odd twist of double casting, Tristan Dowbrowney was both Lord Montague and Count Paris. With his long limbs and blond locks, he was quite convincing as the latter, but way too youthful to be Romeo’s father.
In the end though, it was Amanda Green who brought the house down. Her horror in finding the body of Romeo was palpable, creating a heart-rending finale image. If only van Dantzig would end the ballet with the image of the two dead lovers, rather than diluting it by parading all the families and mourners back into the crypt.