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PNB’s Romeo et Juliette Is Heart-Breaking at Every Angle

Written by Gabrielle Nomura
Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers James Moore and
Kaori Nakamura in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette
Photo © Angela Sterling.
From the outpouring of emotion, applause, and the multiple standing ovations, it was clear that a Montague and a Capulet were not the only ones who fell in love during Pacific Northwest Ballet’s opening night of Romeo et Juliette at McCaw Hall, Friday night, February 1, 2013. Choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot’s reinvented version of the ultimate love story first premiered at PNB in 2008. Now on its third time around, and with PNB’s own sets and costumes this time, the ballet remains fresh and provocative to Seattle audiences. A storyline familiar to most anyone, when infused with Maillot’s innovative, quirky choreography, this production has a lot to offer both balletomanes, and new audience members.
The ballet unfolded cinematically as remembered by Friar Laurence, the first character the audience meets (on opening night portrayed by Karel Cruz). Right from the start, it is clear the Friar wants to change the fate of this tale. Throughout, he endeavors to do good but ultimately only creates tragedy; he is helpless to stop the inevitable. This concept was represented by his constantly being manipulated and partnered by two dancers dressed in white, the acolytes (characters not in Shakespeare’s play, but helpful to the telling of this story from the Friar’s point of view).
Kaori Nakamura and James Moore were perfectly suited, both physically and emotionally, for the title roles. In the balcony pas de deux, a boyish and infatuated Moore is so overcome he could do nothing but lie on the ground, head in hands, only to catch the flirtatious Nakamura in his arms when she least expects it. Despite being one of PNB’s longest-standing dancers and most serious technicians, Nakamura softened for the role, optimizing a playful, yet fierce and fiery young Juliet.
Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Kaori Nakamura and James Moore
in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette
Photo © Angela Sterling.
The two surrendered themselves completely to the integrity of the movement, seeming to blur the line between acting, dancing and simply “being.” At times, it truly felt as if one was watching something so intimate and sacred, it almost wasn’t allowed to be seen by others. In one such moment, the entangled dancers seemed to notice they were being watched, and, throwing the covers over themselves in Juliet’s bed, resumed their passion in privacy. It was an explosive night for both lead dancers, but especially for Moore, whose promotion to principal dancer was announced following the show.
The audience was treated to other PNB all-stars such as Rachel Foster as the Nurse, in addition to up and coming stand-outs: Andrew Bartee, who also performs with Kate Wallich and Whim W’him, and Leta Biasucci, who was named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch for 2013.” Not that the dancers can take all the credit for the standing ovations. Each production element, from the simple long dresses and conceptual costumes by JérômeKaplan, to the sparse, architectural sets by Ernest Pignon-Ernest, (including a single, continuous beam, raised at an angle that served as Juliet’s balcony), worked harmoniously together to deliver a package that felt well-designed at every angle. 
Then there was the intelligence of Malliot’s choreography. The physical interactions and movement vocabulary were perfectly designed; it’s as if the dancers don’t even have to try to act. The audience was able to see the human spirit with an honesty and authenticity usually only seen in modern dance. Romeo’s friends for example, Mercutio (Jonathan Poretta) and Benvolio (Benjamin Griffiths) weren’t simply leaping bodies with Shakespearean names. Their movement showed them as real young men–horny, boyish teenagers–getting into trouble and chasing girls.
Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Batkhurel Bold as Tybalt and
Jonathan Porretta as Mercutio in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette
Photo © Angela Sterling.
Finally, the unimaginable splendor and heartbreak of Roméo et Juliette was made vivid by an aspect of the ballet that was heard, but not seen. Sergei Prokovief’s music so clearly lends itself to a ballet like this; it sets an emotional tone essential to making the entire performance so moving, and the PNB Orchestra, led by Conductor Emil de Cou, played it majestically. From a young love filled with splendor and exuberance; to the pensive and anguished themes danced by Friar Laurence, to the surging and thrilling violence of the Montague/Capulet battle, the music alone tells the story. At the very end, as Juliet howled a silent scream lying with her beloved limp in her arms, the emotional strains of Prokovief’s score swelled with raw heartbreak and longing; it alone was enough to bring tears to one’s eyes.
Roméo et Juliette continues this weekend with four performances. Tickets and performances times can be found here.