In Living Black and White
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Roméo et Juliette”
2 February 2008, Evening Performance
McCaw Hall, Seattle, Washington
by Dean Speer
Cinematic in treatment, Jean-Christophe Maillot’s “Roméo et Juliette” fulfills many fantasies – of the wind-swept hair and crashing waves variety. He fuses modern dance idiomatic gestures with a balletic palette of steps that’s used to bring out the essence of this timeless story.
Gone are the usual trappings – such as “heavy” sets and costumes, using instead movable blank pieces of a set that convey each scene through lighting and context: bedroom; courtyard; town square; church. A film-like opening shows us suggestions of Verona projected onto a downstage scrim along with credits. Costumes, as are the sets, are various shades of white and black. What color there is comes in with the lighting designs.
Some characters are eliminated entirely, while others have expanded roles. At the heart of the ballet, of course, are the two young lovers and their quarreling families. Noelani Pantastico and Lucien Postlewaite have plenty to do as the “star-crossed” pair – lots of meaty dancing, emotions ranging from joy and ecstacy to rage and grief. Pantastico wins the Olympic Gold Medal for stamina by doing all but one of the shows in the run. Both she and Postlewaite have technique and aplomb to spare and it was a joy to see them.
The action is seen as a flashback through Friar Laurence [Olivier Wevers] who is experiencing guilt from being one of the good-intentioned conspirators who sets several actions in motion. Wevers is equally at home in both princely and modern roles, as he is here. Another conspirator is The Nurse who is portrayed both comedically and tragically, extremely well danced by Jodie Thomas.
Louise Nadeau gives Lady Capulet such great energy and characterization. Here is someone who would cheerfully eat her own children, praying-mantis style. Her primal driver is one of power. Memorable were her sharp battements as well as the image of her echappé with her back to us when she first entered the tomb. Yet, after a few “boo-hoos” she runs off to her next conquest. I think her “grief” is more feeling sorry for herself as her two primary means of increasing power are now dead – Tybalt and Juliette.
Jonathan Porretta’s Mercutio is so “him.” Technical, fast allegro and adding on Mercutio’s bawdy sense of humor – and it’s a delightful part for Porretta.
Maillot smartly uses slow-motion for the fight scenes and then quickly switches to real time when the murders happen. This technique has been used before when showing violence and it makes it more palatable to audiences. Either that, or you have to have cleverly choreographed sword play. A little over the top, was Roméo’s strangling of Tybalt using a scarf – we didn’t need to see Tybalt twitching quite so much; it was very hard to take.
It was one of those great moments of the theatre as the curtain rose to see Pantastico and Postlewaite standing together – the crowd on its feet, roaring its approval.
I was pleased that many of the corps had plenty to dance as respective members of the fractious houses or as “acolytes” to the friar.
One of the strengths of the production is its Prokofiev score, very well played by the mighty PNB Orchestra under the baton of Conductor Stewart Kershaw.
This production, new to PNB, is one that sits on the shelf with many other “R & J” productions that we’ll look forward to seeing in the future.