For old-fashioned drama, a thrilling musical score played live and, oh, yes, some gorgeous dancing fueled by intricate choreography, the National Ballet of Canada had a hit ever since it premiered Alexei Ratmansky's "Romeo and Juliet" in 2011.
The three-act tragedy led by a dreamy Guillaume Côté and a vulnerable Elena Lobsanova as the doomed lovers did not disappoint on Thursday, when it tugged at heartstrings in the first of four performances at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. (Different casts of principal dancers are scheduled during the run.)
Verona comes alive in Ratmansky's provocative telling: Richard Hudson's Renaissance-inspired costumes are colorful but not color-coded to signify Capulet or Montague cliques, and sets include a long, food-laden banquet table in the ballroom scene and a massive, drape-enclosed four-poster bed for Juliet. There is mime and swordplay aplenty, with the blades providing clanging accompaniment to Prokofiev's lush sounds, ably conducted by David Briskin (the horns' occasional bleating, notwithstanding). The specter of death looms large.
Character dancing is ebullient, the village folk deploying well executed, complex patterns. Romeo's posse — Mercutio (the wonderful Piotr Stanczyk, who offers a fusion of comedy and filigreed footwork) and Benvolio (a fine Robert Stephen) — toy with Romeo at the ball, carrying him aloft in step with Paris (a noble Patrick Lavoie), Juliet's intended. When he lifts her, the star-crossed lovers are seemingly floating to a better place.
If only! Côté's Romeo, ardent, with the soul of a poet, is a potent partner, tossing off soaring leaps, his landings buttery and soft. Lobsanova, giddy when first smitten, conveys emotions ranging from frustration and fear to sheer ecstasy and, finally, resignation. The couple's balcony pas de deux is ravishing, with Romeo's beating feet reflecting his heart, and Juliet's arched back and delicate arms melting into his, climaxing with a series of resplendent, swoon-worthy lifts.
But death soon intervenes, as first a near-sociopathic Tybalt (a scowling, sure-footed McGee Maddox) fells Mercutio with his rapier. Then an avenging Romeo smites Tybalt in similar fashion. There is no turning back as this epic tale unspools to its mournful conclusion, the dance drama punctuated with memorable characterizations.
Lorna Geddes' Nurse, a big bundle of white, flitters nervously, joyous at Juliet's newfound love. Friar Lawrence (an effectively somber Peter Ottmann) marries the young couple in his tiny room, where the pair repeats some of their duet, and where Juliet will later obtain the sleeping potion needed to feign death.
Ah, the tomb scene: It's achingly beautiful, with Juliet waking just minutes before Romeo dies, allowing the pair one final dance. Having drunk poison, he then expires, and Juliet plunges Romeo's dagger into her heart. As the bodies lie lifeless on the floor, the couples' bereft parents and Friar Lawrence arrive; reconciliation can, at long last, begin.
'Romeo and Juliet'
Who: National Ballet of Canada
Where: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
When: 7:30 p.m. Fri., 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sat., 2 p.m. Sun.