Ballet by the Bard

By Tara DiBenedetto

Love, hate, jealously and betrayal. It’s business as usual at the National Ballet of Canada.

The acclaimed ballet company is celebrating their bicentennial by performing Shakespeare’s tragic love story, Romeo and Juliet. Although the story was originally adapted for ballet in 1785, it remained largely untouched until 1926, when it was made into a "cocktail ballet" at a Russian ballet company. Since then it has been re-choreographed more than 20 times.

The version performed by the National Ballet is considered one of the greatest accomplishments of 20th century ballet and still retains the choreography by John Cranko and the music of Sergei Prokofiev. It’s been a signature piece for the company since its 1964 premiere.

Romeo and Juliet is a well-known, well-loved play, and the ballet remains faithful to the original story. In fact, the only noticeable difference, according to principal dancer Geon Van der Wyst, is the length of time needed to tell the story.

"There is a certain time frame needed to put the story into movement," he says. "When you use an orchestra, you must be able to adapt the score into a sequence the audience can understand."

The successful blend of music and movement necessitates a slightly longer running time than a theatre production, but the extra time is well worth it. Van der Wyst believes that it is the many different elements of the production that make this ballet truly exciting. The fusion of the story’s universal themes allows the audience to escape into the production.

"[It was the ability to] transport a person emotionally," says Van
der Wyst. "There are elements throughout the whole ballet that will shift one’s emotions from hate to love to yearning to jealousy to surprise."

The lavish sets, opulent costumes and special effects–including two highly choreographed sword fights–further reinforce the sense of escapism the ballet provides. It is a story which speaks to all of us, beautifully presented through the partnership of music and dance.

"It has all the ingredients for a great night out," says Van der Wyst.

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