Romeo et Juliette
"Romeo et Juliette" has a short run at Pacific Northwest Ballet, so get your tickets quickly because this is a lovely show. Choreographed by Jean-Christophe Maillot to music by Sergei Prokofiev, this classic tale based on Shakespeare's play is an exception to my general dislike of story ballets. When a story is really worth telling, it works beautifully.
The story itself is familiar: Juliet (Carla Korbes) and Romeo (Seth Orza) meet by chance at a ball and fall instantly in love. That night while Juliet stands out on her balcony, Romeo appears and declares his love. Later, Romeo and his friends, Benvolio (Benjamin Griffiths) and Mercutio (Jonathan Porretta), are out enjoying some street theater when Juliet's nurse (Carrie Imler) brings him a letter arranging a meeting with Juliet and the Friar.
Romeo and Juliet are married, but meanwhile Tybalt (Batkhurel Bold), Juliet's cousin gets into a fight with Mercutio and Benvolio and kills Mercutio. Romeo in turn kills Tybalt and is forced to flee. Friar Laurence (Karel Cruz) comes up with what seems to be the perfect plan: Juliet will take a potion that makes her appear dead, so she can escape and rejoin Romeo. Romeo finds Juliet in her tomb, believes she is dead and kills himself. When Juliet wakes up and realizes what has happened, she also kills herself.
Maillot's version of the story focuses on Friar Laurence, his determination to bring peace to two feuding families and his anguish when all his choices go wrong. Two acolytes, Andrew Bartee and Jerome Tisserand, who pull him in various directions and dance his state of mind, accompany him. The role of the friar is perfect for Cruz, who with his lanky height looks like a conflicted spider weaving his web around the story.
The set and the lighting (designed respectively by Ernest Pignon-Ernest and Dominique Drillot) are major players in the piece. The set consists of large, clean sweeping white structures reminding me of the desert canyons of Utah, moved and lit to create different locations and different moves. At one point Friar Laurence tries to hold back the movement of one set piece as it moves inexorably towards the grim conclusion.
The choreography is fresh and interesting, from the flirtations among the townsfolk to the razor-sharp precision of Lady Capulet, Juliet's mother (Laura Gilbreath) thrown in sharp contrast to the soft and silly tenderness of Imler's Nurse, to the air of sexual discovery between Romeo and Juliet.
In some ways the performance is built around trios: Friar Laurence and his acolytes, Juliet, Lady Capulet and the Nurse, and Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio. All three triads have their own flavor of dance, helping to create that sense of the complexity of human interaction, how things work and how things go wrong.
Some scenes stand out in particular: The lush ballroom with its swirling dancers, the marriage between Romeo and Juliet, Lady Capulet's stirring dance of rage when Tybalt is killed, and some marvelous fight scenes. The puppet show as part of the street theater is a nice touch, telling the whole story of Romeo and Juliet in brief with puppets; the puppeteers turn out to be the Friar and his acolytes.
If I had to find something to complain about it would be that the final scene in the tomb loses some of the oomph of the show. Having recently seen a lovely production of the play "Romeo and Juliet" I also found myself hungry for the beautiful language.
But those are small points in a really lovely ballet, beautifully choreographed and performed against one of the best sets I've seen. Go enjoy this classic tragedy.
"Romeo et Juliette" runs through Feb. 10 at McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St. in Seattle Center. For info or tickets, call 206-441-2424 or visit pnb.org.