If you want your Shakespeare served up on a high-minded pedestal of romantic tradition, then Jean-Christophe Maillot’s “Roméo et Juliette” at Pacific Northwest Ballet is not for you.
In prime Shakespearean form, Maillot’s contemporary-feeling ballet is all steamy sexuality and the awkward humanity of two teenagers in irresistibly physical first love.
Accentuating the universality of the star-crossed lovers’ story, no intricate period sets or costumes bind the ballet to a specific time or place. Instead, set designer Ernest Pignon Ernest’s simple white walls move about to establish a new location in conjunction with the stage lighting.
That simplicity also allows the choreography and costumes to take center stage. Jérôme Kaplan’s costumes, updated for the current production, suggest both the Renaissance and other periods of history and places.
Set to Sergei Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” score, Maillot’s dramatic choreography adds to the more current feel of the ballet. The choreographer gives his “Roméo et Juliette” a firm footing in classical ballet while adding both natural and stylized modern elements.
In Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production, James Moore as Roméo and Kaori Nakamura as Juliette are believable as the title couple, dancing with genuine teenage gracelessness at times and playfulness at others. Moore and Nakamura followed one another as if they’d been dancing together forever — or were truly in the feverish madness of first love.
The choreography for Lindsi Dec’s striking Lady Capulet evokes modern dance and brings home her need for power and her inescapable authoritarian rule over Juliette. There is even a déjà vu Jets-vs.-Sharks moment when the rumble-style staging seemed as if it had come straight out of the “West Side Story.”
Maillot does not shy away from Shakespeare’s bawdiness. Roméo and Juliette are frequently lip-locked or inseparably intertwined. In the ballet’s comedic sections, there is plenty of breast-grabbing and other antics that had the audience roaring with laughter on opening night, Friday, Feb. 1.
Rachel Foster provided the bulk of the ballet’s comic relief with her very funny Nurse. As Roméo’s friend Mercutio, Jonathan Porretta was youthfully playful. Batkurel Bold was menacing as Juliette’s hot-tempered cousin Tybalt.
Karel Cruz had the intriguing role of Friar Lawrence, who unwittingly precipitates the deaths of Roméo and Juliette. Maillot’s choreography has Laurence introducing the ballet and constantly fighting fate, working to stop the inevitable tragedy by trying to slow Roméo and Juliette’s movements or keeping a set piece from shifting into its spot.
A testament to the Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers and production, as the ballet progressed, I found myself rooting for Laurence to succeed in halting the fatal end, all the while knowing he would fail.
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Roméo and Juliette” plays at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., through Sunday, Feb. 10. Tickets/information: www.pnb.org, (206) 441-2424.
MAGGIE LARRICK is a former editor of the News. To comment on this story, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.