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PNB's revival of Roméo et Juliette
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PNB's revival of Roméo et Juliette

by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

Roméo et Juliette
Pacific Northwest
Ballet
Through October 4


Pacific Northwest Ballet opened its 2009-2110 season with a splendid revival of Jean-Christophe Maillot's Roméo et Juliette - and there's more to the story than that simple statement.

Peter Boal, PNB's newest artistic director, in his long-range plans to reinvent PNB, brings Maillot's version back to the ballet just over 18 months since it premiered here in early 2008. PNB keeps the French spelling of Roméo and Juliet, in part, to make it clear that the company now has two complete ballets based on the Shakespeare tragedy in its repertory. Maillot uses the classic score by Sergei Prokofiev, written in 1935 but never staged until 1940. (The original Russian ballet company that commissioned the score pronounced it "undanceable" and cancelled the contract. The score is now considered a modern classic.)

PNB's earlier Roméo and Juliet (beloved by fans, if not by all critics) was a lavish, color-filled version with elaborate costumes and a remarkable set by Broadway's Ming Cho Lee, a set full of arches, colonnades, revolving set pieces. The costumes - all velvets and brocades - seemed "just right" for the immortal tale. The "score" was cobbled together from major and minor works by Tchaikovsky. Since the Russian master of ballet works (The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, etc.) never wrote a full score for R&J, PNB created its own. The choreography by Kent Stowell, then co-artistic director of the company, was serviceable at best.

There is no doubt that Maillot's choreography is superb. The sets are spare, as are the costumes. The overall look is almost monochromatic. The entire focus is on the dance, often at the cost of clear characterization and plot development. And, it must be noted, dance is the focus of every major ballet company. Lavish sets and stunning costumes add theatrics, but without challenging, superb choreography and beautiful execution of that choreography, first-rate dance is impossible.

In a nutshell, the two Roméo and Juliets illustrate the history of PNB. It seems clear that the Stowell R&J will never be revived, and, in part, that seems sad. But time - and PNB - moves on, and the future of PNB is clearly focused on works like Maillot's.

As in the 2008 winter PNB premiere, the dance is incredible in the 2009 fall revival. Carla Körbes is vibrant as Juliet, moving from an impressionable adolescent, barely 13, to a mature grief as the tragedy unfolds. Lucien Postlewaite's Roméo matches Körbes in every moment. (Like all major companies, PNB rotates the leading and supporting roles with several casts. Every audience has its favorites, but the opening night casts are usually considered the most important - rarely do critics return for second or third casts.)

The supporting roles - Olivier Wevers as Friar Laurence, Jonathan Porretta as Mercutio, Batkhurel Bold as Tybalt, Ariana Lallone as Lady Capulet - were all secure, all superb. The company, cast as Capulets and Montagues, provided solid support. Although the leading roles change from performance to performance, PNB audiences are always assured of outstanding work from the principal characters.

As usual, the PNB Orchestra, conducted by Stewart Kershaw, did remarkable work.

Roméo et Juliette continues with performances through the weekend. "Good seating" is available for all remaining performances. Budget-minded dance fans should be sure to ask about "rush" seating, student and senior discounts, etc. Details at (206) 441-2424.

PNB continues its 37th season with a four-part Director's Choice, November 5-15. That program includes a world premiere, a PNB premiere and revivals of Mopey and the audience-pleasing West Side Story Suite, a blockbuster from last season.

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