Brandon Alley and Emily Chessa. Photo © Michael Slobodian.

Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver- February 22, 2018

For Ballet BC’s second show of the season, the company commissioned a full-length work, uncommon in its repertoire, from a choreographer who had never created a narrative ballet before. Their creation, Medhi Walerski’s Romeo + Juliet, might’ve just set a benchmark for Romeo and Juliet productions in contemporary ballet.

Set to the score by Sergei Prokofiev, Walerski reignited the familiar story with articulate choreography that found new depth and vibrancy in the characters. Casting was spot-on, and Walerski gave each of the characters a unique vocabulary. Romeo (Brandon Alley) succumbed to every emotional impulse; the centre of his body curved and twisted by the momentum of his desires. Juliet’s (Emily Chessa) limbs playfully kissed the air with each leap and lift, but when oppressed by her circumstances, grounded lunges and firm arm positions expressed her determination. Chessa and Alley were delightful together and looked as if they’d been partnering for years. Gilbert Small’s wide stance, and swift, intricate movements expressed an intimidating authority as Juliet’s protective cousin, Tybalt. Makaila Wallace’s dignified and cold Mother Capulet was a perfect foil to the humble and doting Nurse (Alexis Fletcher).

The ensemble also had distinct roles in driving the narrative. Additional dancers from the Arts Umbrella Graduate Program were invited to join the company in portraying dueling Montagues and Capulets, stately guests at the Capulet ball, and looming shadows dressed in black leotards that encircled and lifted Chessa as she clutched anxiously at the poison she would soon ingest.

While the dancers expressed a rich and varied spectrum, the costumes (designed by Walerski) and set (designed by Theun Mosk) were appropriately muted and grayscale. The colour white was reserved for Juliet’s slip dress and Romeo’s windswept shirt. Costumes with subtle references to the Shakespearean era mingled alongside contemporary silhouettes. The movable set pieces were merely large and black rectangular frames through which the dancers entered or that cordoned off the space in a scene. Walerski deliberately left time and place undefined for more universal interpretation.

Occasionally, a dancer in the ensemble stands out against the rest. Parker Finley joined the company as an apprentice this season and I had already noticed her in Program 1. She’s effortlessly confident, and even in the company’s most physically demanding work, we see her personality, not her exertion. I foresee that she’ll be dancing bigger roles very soon.

Justin Rapaport and Artists of Ballet BC. Photo © Michael Slobodian.