Dancers, like all performing artists, like nothing better than to be challenged. And there's no challenge greater or more exciting for them than to have a new ballet -- especially a full-length story work -- set on them by an extraordinary choreographer. It's not just that it gets the creative adrenalin flowing, but it re-affirms for them the reason they became ballet artists in the first place -- to bring to life emotions, ideas and characters and convey moods and themes through the medium of dance that will move an audience.
That challenge has been taking place over the past several weeks at the Walter Carsen Centre here in Toronto by the dancers of The National Ballet of Canada. In 2007, I asked Alexei Ratmansky, Artist-in-Residence at American Ballet Theatre, if he would be interested in creating a new version of Romeo and Juliet for our company. I had long been a huge admirer of Alexei's work and thought his sensibility and vision would be a perfect fit with our dancers and aesthetic goals. We had been dancing a version of Romeo and Juliet since 1964, and while it had always been a mainstay of our repertoire and one of our most popular ballets, it was a work that cried out for rejuvenation, for a fresh interpretation. When Alexei said he'd love to work with us, I was thrilled, as were our dancers when it was announced.
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When Alexei arrived to work with the dancers, he proved an ideal creative leader. No two choreographers are exactly alike in their temperaments or working methods, and that uniqueness is also part of what makes the creation of a new work so exciting. Alexei turned out to have a natural rapport with our dancers and an extraordinary ability to make clear to the dancers not just the steps and movement, but his conception of the inner workings of the drama, what he wanted the ballet to be about. It was gratifying to see how enthusiastically the dancers responded to Alexei's vision, not just in choreographic terms (and there is a lot more dancing in this version than the old one) but in growing into and inhabiting the wealth of characters the ballet possesses, locating and bringing out their inner lives and emotions.
Needless to say, a new production involves more than the dancing. New sets and costumes had to be designed and created, which sent even more ripples of energy out through the company. Even a fresh marketing and public relations campaign had to be devised. Everyone became caught up in the enthusiasm of the project and you could feel the power of the project practically surge through our building. When the ballet opens at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on Wednesday, it's going to be an amazing moment. There's nothing like the force and challenge of a new ballet to galvanize everyone involved in bringing it to life.
Romeo and Juliet premieres at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto on Nov. 16, 2011 and runs until Nov. 27, 2011. For more information, please visit www.national.ballet.ca.