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Flash Review 1, 2-19: A Legend Debuts
A Fiery Return For Kain as Lady Capulet

By Shena Wilson
Copyright 2002 Shena Wilson

TORONTO -- Karen Kain returned to the ballet stage Friday, trailing red robes and fire as she made her debut as Lady Capulet in John Cranko's "Romeo & Juliet." It was an evening of starry debuts and juicy classic emotion from the National Ballet of Canada at the Hummingbird Centre, as Xiao Nan Yu produced a jubilant Juliet and Ryan Boorne delivered a romantic Romeo.

Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet" is, thanks in no small part to Friar Laurence's failed courier service, the benchmark of tragic love stories. Of note in the Cranko version however is an intriguing little twist in family values of one of the feuding factions. The play by the Bard was, it is said, brought forward from the legend of real families Montecchi and Capelletti, who lived in 13th century Italy. Who knows about the real people of this legend, but in the version we have here, one does notice that Lady Capulet loves her nephew Tybalt very much indeed, and vice versa. There is terrific assured sexiness in Rex Harrington's Tybalt and Kain's Lady Capulet is elegance and passion personified. More about these and others later; suffice to say, however, that if I loved my nephew that much, and acted on it, someone would likely call family services.

As in all the best illicit affairs, subtlety is hot stuff and as the tragedy marches on, so do the glances between the charismatic twosome. These simmer and then rise to the boil when, at the site of his killing, Lady Capulet kneels over Tybalt's dead body in her agony. Now, with all those robes, who can see a knee? But when Tybalt is slain and pulled to a couch, Cranko's Lady Capulet doesn't just kneel and cry, but straddles her dead nephew and undulates in anguish as they are carried away. So, with this wholesome scene in mind, here are a couple of historical and decor notes to get us fully in the mood, as it were.

The National Ballet gave the Canadian premiere of John Cranko's seamless and beautiful 1962 creation at Montreal's Place des Arts in 1964. It has remained popular and is a festive high note for the National Ballet of Canada at occasions such as its 25th and now this, its 50th anniversary season. Cranko's transformation of play to ballet is so successful that the dance is the story and vice versa. There are no lulls in the motion of the well-known plot, no unmotivated dance portions. This production's sets and costumes, by Susan Benson, first seen in 1995, are sumptuous. We are transported to Verona, Italy in the early Renaissance, about 1400, and there is an immediate atmosphere of romance, mystery, and passion. This tone is set by muted greys of stone walls and arcing bridges, the flickering glow of torches, flowing red fabrics, filmy white curtains and ornate head-dresses, cushions and masks. The Capulets are in reds, the Montagues in sepia tones. The whole makes for grandeur of design and passion of plot, especially when wedded to Prokofiev's magically gorgeous score.

And what of the dancers? (All of the principal roles I mention here were debuts, with the exception of Harrington as Tybalt.) My Romeo did not fail me. But I do dare want more. Boorne was strong, graceful, spirited, and enamored. Let's just say that when it's all so fantastic, and yet, by pure intuition, you know there is even more to discover, you tend to demand and prod. Boorne is letter perfect in the technique and general artistry departments. He carried through a youthful, wily, good-natured aura, and then became suitably angst-ridden when prescribed. But I wanted even more swoon, more guts, more, more, more! (I will be fine in moment.) I wanted to see the door really fly off the hinges and if my intuition is correct, we will see this even more with Boorne in a short time. (In fact, I've already seen it in works like the recent "Pastorale.")

Xiao Nan Yu essayed an airy and elegant Juliet. She played it young but not silly, swooning but not senseless. What a joy to watch. There is such an easy perfection about her that I actually forgot the physical demands of her role. Yu is very gifted and it's Juliet's show. She certainly did it justice.

My favorite pals of the eve were Romeo's two friends Mercutio and Benvolio, danced Friday by William Marrie and newcomer Maxim Vaitsiul, respectively. Particularly in their sequences with chum Romeo, I can only say: what a trio! These men have it all: technique, power, passion, and charisma. Marrie is an especially engaging actor who brought suitable sexy-rogue to Mercutio and Vaitsiul had a presence that seems to seep like sand through cracks and crannies. He fills the whole space(sort of like that foam insulation, come to think of it). Kudos also to corps member Tanya Howard for her bawdy gypsy woman.

At curtain call the crowd showed its appreciation with an immediate standing ovation. Swells of noise, of course, went to favorites Harrington and Kain. What a marvellous pair -- together again. There is so much to applaud in both of them, and yet where Kain's incredible career is concerned, it occurred to me on Friday evening that we don't talk enough about her eardrums. She seems to be listening so carefully. I remember her saying in an interview years ago, "The music is what makes me dance," and it certainly shows. (We also saw this terrific musicality at work during a class Kain recently taught about the work of Sir Frederick Ashton.)

Just after Juliet's bridesmaids present Lady Capulet with flowers, she is stunned to discover her daughter lifeless on the bed. Her limp fingers let lilies drop, slowly, before she precipitously cradles Juliet and cries. During this choreographed transformation, in anguish and disbelief, there is a particular quality of stillness, a tilt to Kain's face that conveys emotion to the highest balcony. As an impassioned Lady Capulet, over and beyond the pirouettes and bravado of the other roles in her impressive personal repertoire, Karen Kain still seems to be saying, "I have never seen this (scene) before." I too am amazed.

(In the early 70s, starting when I was about five, my Mum used to take my sister and me to the open air concerts and ballets at Ontario Place. We were sometimes there early enough for my sister and I to go down to stage level of the sunken amphitheater and hook our little legs through the railings surrounding the circular stage. We could stay there if we didn't fidget or swing. What a treat. And, I didn't realize it at the time, but Karen Kain was surely there too. The particular covered amphitheater is no more, but what a charmed beginning it was to my enchantment with dance.)


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