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Body Language with Sonia Rodriguez

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Aleksandar Antonijevic and Sonia Rodriguez with Artists of the Ballet in Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Sian Richards.


If there’s a Shakespearean story better written for the laced-up, straining, exquisitely controlled sexuality of ballet than Romeo and Juliet (the original heartbreak of teen lovers, innocent and daring, unmatched in beauty), we didn’t read it in high school.
The world-beloved tale, as told through body language, returns to the National Ballet this season. It is John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet, first performed by the Stuttgart Ballet in 1962, and since widely acclaimed to be the best of many choreographies set to the haunting Sergei Prokofiev score. For Toronto’s National Ballet, it was redesigned in 1995 by set and costume mistress Susan Benson, and staged with delicate accuracy every three years or so since. In its 2009 run—opening tonight, March 11, at 7:30 p.m., and closing March 22—a rotation of five casts will spin through a soaring trio of acts.
We quizzed one of the ballet’s many tender Juliets, seasoned Principal Dancer Sonia Rodriguez, about her fourth turn as the fourteen-year-old heroine. Interview follows the jump—or shall we say the petit jeté?


Torontoist: What’s different this season?
Rodriguez: The ballet is always more or less the same. It’s very specific, the way it’s staged. Reid Anderson, he used to be the director, and he oversees everything.
But for me…every time you approach a role you’re at a different comfort level, so you’re at a different starting point. You get to develop and explore a role further each time.
And you have a new partner, Zdenek Konvalina. How does that change the way you dance?
It’s about the chemistry between two dancers, and how that unfolds…just different energy and you know, it’s just different altogether. How his personality is compared to [former partner] Aleks’, the way he moves, and that’s sort of gonna affect how I react to that too.
[Zdenek and I] been building a relationship. We started with Cinderella this year, and we recently did The Seagull. We just sort of felt that we worked really well together and there’s a really nice chemistry between us. And now we’ve been handed Romeo and Juliet—it’s really fun. He’s a wonderful dancer and extremely giving on stage. He really gives himself and he’s in the moment.
What do you love most about being Juliet?
The transformation of the character and sort of that maturity she goes through, throughout the ballet. Not just as a dancer but as a dancer-slash-actress, it’s a very fulfilling role, because it’s got a lot of emotional depth. It’s probably one of the most exhausting. Maybe technically it’s not as challenging as other full-length classical ballets, but at the end of the evening you’re just as tired, because you’ve given so much of yourself to the role. But it’s also rewarding, because it’s given you so much back.
You’re 36; Juliet is, what, 14?
Yeah, she’s very young.
Is it hard to play someone two decades younger?
I never seem to have a lot of issues with that. I get in the moment and recall the feeling of what that first love was like…butterflies and that sort of being young and feeling like your whole world’s ahead of you still. I can be in the moment and really believe in that. And if you really believe in it, then people believe with you.
They keep telling me that I look extraordinary young. Maybe my two kids keep me young!
You have two kids? How old?
One is five and a half, the other is eighteen months old.
Do they come to watch you dance?
Gabriel [the older of the two] has seen a few productions. He was complaining that he didn’t get to come watch his mum in the mixed programme. He says he really wants to come to see Romeo and Juliet. I told him it was a sad story. He wasn’t too happy about that.
Aww! It is the saddest story, but also one of the most beloved. Why do you think that is?
It’s a story that I think everyone relates to, in a way. It just talks about love. Everybody can relate to that. And you know, just the hope that it brings…and how love is above everything, and will survive anything, really. People like that story, right? Even though it’s sad, you hope that they always be together. Spiritually, at least, still together.
What’s your favourite scene in the ballet?
I love the balcony part of it. It’s one of my favourite ones. But then the whole third act for Juliet is quite beautiful. There’s a lot of acting in it, not just dancing. It keeps on building and building and it’s quite wonderful.
And the hardest part?
Just the emotional rollercoaster. Not that it’s difficult, but I think it’s more that…you don’t want to come in and out of character. You have to be Juliet from beginning to end, and tell the story. As a dancer you don’t have words. But we’re lucky that we have production that’s so ingeniously choreographed, that it tells the story so beautifully. And we can portray so much with our body movements.
Dancers have early retirements; would you act as a second career?
I won’t close the door [on acting]. Would I like to do it? Yes. Would I be able to do it? We’ll see.
In Toronto, the National Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet is performed at the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen Street West). The 2009 season runs from tonight through March 22. For ticket pricing and information, visit national.ballet.ca or call 416-363-6671.

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