Heather Ogden spills the beans
about her luv of Cranko’s R&J:
“The first time I saw Cranko's Romeo and Juliet was when I was learning the role of Juliet. I fell in love with the ballet right away and it is still my favourite ballet to dance and watch. The entire production is stunning, the story is heartbreaking and the way it touches the audience is truly amazing. If you are up for a night of romance this is your show. It is a beautiful love story that reminds us to cherish that special person in our lives.”
I’m very much looking forward to seeing R&J in March! Below is an old review:
The NBoC will Dance Cranko’s R&J into Eternity!
“Welcome, gentlemen! Ladies that have their toes
Unplagued with corns will have a bout with you.
Ah ha, my mistresses which of you all!
Will now deny to dance?”
Lord Capulet, the head of the house.
Anyone who has suffered through a rendition of Shakespeare’s verse by amateurish thespians knows full well how long time passes under such Bardish conditions. Such times make one wish for silent acting. You will be pleased to read that time passes very quickly and most gracefully for the National Ballet of Canada dancing the prose of the Bard to life!
Unfortunately, I must bestow compliments for the choreography posthumously; John Cranko passed away in 1973 at the age of 45. Dieter Gräfe, as chief beneficiary of Cranko’s will, holds the copyright. His partner, Reid Anderson, former Artistic Director of the NBoC, stages the ballet. The beauty of Cranko’s choreography is speaking the Bard of Avon through nothing more than silent acting, movement, and music. You don’t have to read the program to follow the story. You don’t even have to be familiar with the story. Words become unnecessary; the dance speaks for itself.
Our story begins in fair Verona with Romeo (Guillaume Côté) and Rosalind (Alexandra Golden) flirting. Two Michelangelo-like statues grace the stage as the city stirs to life. If ever you visit New York City Ballet, I highly recommend you make a side trip to Central Park for gazing purposes and perhaps a little Shakespeare in the Park. For your viewing pleasure, outside of the Delacorte Theatre, stands a Milton Hebald nude bronze statue symbolizing Romeo & Juliet’s eternal love at first sight. (Viewer Discretion is advised.) The Capulets and Montagues play fighting deteriorates into real fighting and the Duke of Verona calls a halt to the hostilities.
The curtain closes to allow for a quick set change and set up Juliet’s coming of age in the elegant form of the very girlish and lovely Heather Ogden. It was obvious the NBoC’s casting menu raked in quite a few hits. The May 6th performance I attended was noticeably fuller and buzzing with anticipation for Miss Ogden. As proof I offer up the appearance of Lord Black of Crossharbour, Conrad Black, along with his wife, Barbara Amiel. Despite being in the news for all the wrong reasons, not many noticed the large presence of Lord Black-Not someone you want to sit behind if you value an unobstructed view of the stage!
Heather Ogden did not disappoint. For evidence I offer up my memories of Juliet full of play teasing her nurse (Lisa Robinson) and dancing with a new dress for her first ball. Wilting roses longing for the sweet dew of youth were temporarily transported back in time when their love was shiny and new. Standing all alone on center stage, the light from the heavens shines upon Juliet as she blossoms from a 14 year old teenager into womanhood before our very eyes. The jury of the Hummingbird Centre reaches a unanimous verdict: Miss Ogden is the picture of beauty, freshness, vitality and innocence on all counts! If called upon, I have full confidence a certain lordly couple will testify to the above.
The curtain opens to reveal Romeo, Mercutio (Piotr Stanczyk) and Benvolio (Nehemiah Kish) sneaking into the Capulet’s Ball disguised as revelers in masks and long capes. They dance a jubilant pas de trios. Stanczyk works up quite a sweat executing a string of breathless traveling jumps (coupe jeté en tournant). The very shy Juliet arrives in her flower petalled dress topped off with a beautiful flowered headdress. Her backwards bourrées indicate she does not approve of this pre-arranged marriage to Count Paris. As soon as she sees Romeo it’s love at first sight. Sergei Prokofiev scores a love letter for violins and violas. Christopher Body interrupts their romantic pas de deux with an Oscar worthy performance as Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt.
Romeo visits Juliet’s dreamy moonlit balcony later that night where the love struck duo profess their eternal love in a romantic pas de deux and erotic kisses galore. Viewer Discretion is strongly advised. There was a lot of making out! I lost count of the number of kisses. Their love duet climaxes in breathtaking upside down lifts and gorgeous fish dives. Cranko imbues his R&J with many intoxicating high lifts that require split second timing and trust in your partner. Ogden and Côté danced in perfect concert as celestial instruments for Cranko’s eternal gift to Terpsichore.
Now would be a good time for you to prepare a delicious apéritif to prep your senses for Act II. The curtain reveals a festive celebration. Cranko treats us to a little do-si-do and Cirque Du Soleil moves. The surprise highlight of the Carnival Dance was the performance of Second Soloist, Jillian Vanstone, almost unrecognizable hiding underneath her adorable circus artist makeup. She absolutely shined on stage performing one ebullient flip and cartwheel after another. This ballet fan couldn’t take his eyes off her!
Romeo slips away to marry his Juliet at Friar Laurence’s Cell (Senior Ballet Master, Peter Ottmann). We return you to the Street Party overflowing with townsfolk, merchants, beggars, and saucy harlots-All employed to move the story through Cranko’s choreography. Tybalt disrupts the merriment challenging Romeo to a duel, who declines. His bosom buddy Mercutio takes up the challenge and we’re royally entertained with a duel to the death evoking memories of the classic sword fight between Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone from the movie, ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood.’ John Cranko engages the entire corps de ballet on stage as the mischievous Mercutio duels with the humorless Tybalt. Piotr Stanczyk takes a long time to finally expire in a cartoonish ending but it works with the music (especially the cellos).
Romeo can endure it no more. He accepts the challenge picking up the glove to slap Tybalt (ouch)! The Ill-Humor man gets what’s coming to him; Romeo must avenge his friend’s death. Blond, blue-eyed, and broad shouldered with the prerequisite washboard abs, Body (pronounced Beaudy) is much more than Steve McQueen sex appeal-Body is the real deal. You never catch Body (yes, it’s his real name) ‘jumping the shark’ in his silent acting. Christopher Body received a standing ovation when he appeared for his curtain call and it was well deserved. FYI: ‘Jumping the shark’ is a cool phrase and website for ‘keeping it real.’
The Duke of Verona banishes Romeo for killing off Juliet’s cousin. Stephanie Hutchison gave a Stratford like acting job mourning the death of her son. Again, this scene is a little drawn out but it works. Act III beckons. Once again, viewer discretion is strongly advised!
We return from our intermission to a very intimate sight to behold: Juliet and Romeo sleeping off their Wedding Night in a beautiful canopied bed. I wonder why they’re so spent? We’re treated to the swooning, hypnotic melody of R&J’s love theme for their final duet together. Romeo leaves at dawn.
Mom and dad return with Count Paris and Juliet consents to marriage. She runs off to Friar Laurence for a way out. He devises a plan to fake her death with a sleeping potion. Ironically, John Cranko tragically passed away while asleep on a flight from Philadelphia to Stuttgart. He had taken a sleeping sedative (chloral hydrate) and choked on his own vomit. At the time, many newspapers falsely assumed he had taken his own life because of previous battles with depression and alcohol. The world of ballet lost a brilliant choreographer who brought out the best in all the lives he touched whether they be principal dancers, the corps de ballet, or those working behind the scenes. The true beauty of John Cranko was his refreshing distain for all things snobbish and delightful sense of humor (The Taming of the Shrew and Pineapple Poll).
You probably know the rest of the story. Juliet drinks the potion, her nurse and bridesmaids presume her to be heaven bound. It’s time for the heartbreaking Dance of the Lilies. Perhaps I missed it absorbed in the ballet, but I did not notice Romeo’s failure to receive Friar Laurence’s note that Juliet is alive. He sees Paris mourning at the Capulet family crypt and stabs Paris to death. Romeo spends a few tender moments with Juliet before taking his own life. Guillaume Côté, as usual, danced flawlessly and gave a memorable performance.
Juliet emerges from her sleeping potion slumber to death. Heather Ogden filled the long musical passage admirably with her silent acting before kissing Romeo on the forehead and taking her own life. This was an especially moving night with the National bidding farewell this season to the Hummingbird Centre, along with Ormsby Wilkins, their Music Director & Principal Conductor since 1990. Bravo to all those in the pit, who go unseen, for the exception of us balletomanes with the curiosity to sneak a peak at the folks who create the music. Sergei Prokofiev’s score has proven over time to be one of the most sophisticated and evocative in the ballet canon.
To think John Cranko was worried his Romeo & Juliet would not survive the toughest critic of all: Time. He once wrote: Quote:
“A Bach can die and leave behind his Brandenburg concertos for a world to come. A choreographer is lost forever.”
This version of his R&J has survived since its debut in 1962 and might just live as long as the National Ballet of Canada is alive and well. Only his version has played on its stage since 1964. This is one ballet which won’t be Kudelkaized! Of course, I’m sure the Stuttgart Ballet will likewise keep John Cranko’s R&J alive.
Dancers: 20/20. Choreography: 20/20. Ballet Magic: 19/20. Costumes, Sets & Lighting: 16/20. Story: 10/10. Music: 10/10. Rating: 95/100.