Na­tional Bal­let of Canada’s new take on Romeo and Juliet


When Southam Hall’s red vel­vet cur­tain rises on the Na­tional Bal­let of Canada’s Romeo and Juliet Thurs­day night, Ot­tawa dance lovers can ex­pect to see some ex­cit­ing new changes to the old clas­sic.

The first thing they’ll no­tice is the sparkling, laser-cut chore­og­ra­phy by Alexei Rat­man­sky, artist-in-res­i­dence of the Amer­i­can Bal­let The­atre and former artis­tic head of the Bol­shoi. NBC artis­tic di­rec­tor Karen Kain com­mis­sioned Rat­man­sky to cre­ate a new Romeo and Juliet for the com­pany’s 60th an­niver­sary. It was a bold move. John Cranko’s set­ting has been an NBC main­stay since the 1960s, and it’s al­ways risky to mess with an au­di­ence favourite. For Kain, the gam­ble paid off: the bal­let’s world pre­miere, in Novem­ber 2011, was met with stand­ing ova­tions.

“(Rat­man­sky’s) es­thetic, steeped in the Rus­sian school but open to con­tem­po­rary sources, is ideal for this work and our com­pany which, with our clas­si­cal her­itage and our pas­sion for the mod­ern, is per­fectly suited to his dis­tinc­tive dance vi­sion,” Kain said in a state­ment. Dance crit­ics who have seen the pro­duc­tion have gen­er­ally con­curred.

Rat­man­sky’s ac­tion-packed in­ter­pre­ta­tion, set to Prokofiev’s beloved score, is burst­ing with ex­plo­sive jumps, dar­ing lifts and thrilling fight se­quences. He does away with colour-coded cos­tumes for the two war­ring fam­i­lies, pre­fer­ring a less man­nered feel. He also makes some small but sur­pris­ing changes to the plot, in­clud­ing a shock­ing twist in the fi­nal scene.

The other bright shiny thing Ot­tawa can look for­ward to dis­cov­er­ing is bal­le­rina Elena Lob­sanova, who will dance Juliet to Guil­laume Côté’s Romeo on open­ing night. Lob­sanova, 25, is the com­pany’s new­est star. Her per­for­mance as Juliet has made the dance world sit up and take no­tice, with writ­ers gush­ing over her “ele­gant pro­por­tions,” “ma­jes­tic” qual­ity of move­ment and an ex­pres­sive ma­tu­rity be­yond her years.

The ten­sion-fraught process through which Rat­man­sky picked her for the role over far more ex­pe­ri­enced dancers was filmed by CBC in last year’s Bal­let Idol­style tele­vi­sion doc­u­men­tary, Romeos and Juli­ets. Among other mem­o­rable mo­ments, view­ers saw a ner­vous, ex­hausted-look­ing Lob­sanova slip­ping, fall­ing, and break­ing out in pim­ples from the stress of re­hearsals. Em­bar­rassed at the time, the dancer says she has put those jit­ters far be­hind her.

“There’s no pres­sure at all,” Lob­sanova laughs mu­si­cally over the phone from Toronto, the barest trace of a Rus­sian ac­cent in her voice (her par­ents moved from Moscow to Toronto when she was a child). “We’ve per­formed and re­hearsed it so many times now, it’s like sec­ond na­ture.”

Like so many NBC dancers, Lob­sanova is a com­pany “lifer,” hav­ing stud­ied at the Na­tional Bal­let School be­fore join­ing the com­pany as an ap­pren­tice in 2005.

How­ever, her mo­men­tum was tem­po­rar­ily halted when she suf­fered a stress frac­ture in her foot, an in­jury that side­lined her for al­most two years.

Some say the frac­ture oc­curred be­cause she jumped at the ap­pren­tice­ship con­tract too early, be­fore she was phys­i­cally or men­tally ready for the rigours of com­pany life. But Lob­sanova doesn’t in­dulge in 20-20 hind­sight.

“There were a lot of rea­sons for the in­jury,” she says. “I don’t think you can say it was be­cause I was too young. It’s true I had a late growth spurt, but I also ig­nored the in­jury be­cause I didn’t really un­der­stand what a stress frac­ture was. I thought I knew my body so I kept push­ing, be­cause that’s how I am. I’m a very, very, very stub­born per­son!”

That stub­born streak served her well dur­ing her slow, care­ful re­hab, while her new­found pa­tience was re­warded with a pro­mo­tion to sec­ond soloist in 2009. That year, she also won the woman’s award at the ex­clu­sive Eighth In­ter­na­tional Com­pe­ti­tion for the Erik Bruhn Prize. In 2011, the NBC pro­moted her again, this time to first soloist.

Lob­sanova is reach­ing the stage in her ca­reer where other tempt­ing of­fers might beckon. But for now, she’s happy where she is.

“Toronto is my home, in so many ways,” she says. “My fam­ily is here, but I also cher­ish what the com­pany has given me. And when you travel a lot and see what’s go­ing on in other coun­tries, you re­al­ize that Canada’s like this huge, sta­ble rock. So I have no plans to go any­where yet.”

On Satur­day, Feb. 2, dance stu­dents can at­tend a pub­lic bal­let class with the Na­tional Bal­let’s Jonathan Renna, who will dance Mer­cu­tio on Feb. 1.

Reg­is­ter in ad­vance by Jan. 30 with the NAC’s dance outreach co-or­di­na­tor at 613947-700, ext. 588, kirsten. an­der­


Elena Lob­sanova and Guil­laume Côté are the prin­ci­pals in Romeo and Juliet, on stage at the NAC Jan. 31 to Feb. 2.


Elena Lob­sanova, on stage with Guil­laume Côté, is mak­ing the dance world take no­tice.

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