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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 8, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 6
Tragically hip - New York-bound PNB revives Maillot's stylish R&J
Arts & Entertainment
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Tragically hip - New York-bound PNB revives Maillot's stylish R&J

by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

ROMÉO ET JULIETTE
PACIFIC NORTHWEST BALLET
Through February 10


Pacific Northwest Ballet opened its newest revival of the sleek, sophisticated, very French Roméo et Juliette on February 1. The stunningly splendid revival of Jean-Christophe Maillot's version was, again, an audience-pleaser of the first magnitude - and there's more to the story than that simple statement.

Peter Boal, PNB's nationally and internationally admired and respected artistic director, in keeping with his long-range plans to reinvent PNB, brings Maillot's R&J back for the third time since it premiered here in 2008. PNB keeps the French spelling 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 Russian ballet company that commissioned the score pronounced it 'undanceable' and cancelled Prokofiev's contract. The score is now considered a modern classic.)

PNB's earlier Romeo 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, full of arches, colonnades, and 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 Tchaikovsky works. Since the Russian master of ballet (The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, et al.) 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. But - and it is a big but - it was a huge hit with audiences and critics and resulted in many sell-out performances for PNB.

NO FRILLS
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 Romeo and Juliets illustrate the history of PNB. It seems clear that Stowell's once-beloved R&J will likely never be revived, and, in part, that seems sad. But time moves on, as does PNB, and the company's future is clearly focused on works like Maillot's - new, exciting, and often European.

As in the 2008 winter PNB premiere and the most welcome 2009 revival, the dance is incredible: a vibrant Juliet moves from impressionable adolescence to mature grief as the tragedy unfolds. Romeo matches the young innocent Juliet 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 - but many of 'us' do - Candice, Pippa, Hamlin, and many other writers would gladly spend two weeks at McCaw Hall, drinking free wine and eating free chocolates in the press room and loving every moment of the ethereal Roméo et Juliette. 'It's sort of like Grace Kelly in dance,' one once-reluctant friend observed. 'Or Kim Novak as Carlotta in Vertigo.'

The supporting roles provide solid support. Although the leading roles change from performance to performance, PNB audiences are always assured of outstanding work from the principal characters - and in every role, if truth be told.

Roméo et Juliette continues with performances through next weekend. Good seating is available for all remaining performances. Budget-minded dance fans should be sure to ask about 'rush' tickets, student and senior discounts, etc. Details at (206) 441-2424. The Teen Tix Program is proving indispensible in this scribe's gaggle of three young fifth-graders who 'usually' get to write this column for the older, 'real' writer. Fear not, dear reader, the Terrifying Trio will return with the next PNB program.

A NEW YORK VALENTINE
After its two-week run at McCaw Hall, PNB takes Roméo et Juliette and a wonderful, three-part all-Balanchine program to New York's City Center for a Valentine's Week series, Wednesday thru Saturday. A small but intense group of PNB Board members, hotshots, press corps friends, and New York artists from dance, theater, jazz, cabaret, and whatever will join together to celebrate PNB's 'triumphant' return to the City that Never Sleeps. SGN and several other Emerald City arts groups and publications will co-host an informal, but guaranteed fun, luncheon at the legendary Sardi's. As usual, if it's an important arts event, SGN will be there. 'Read all about it' in an upcoming issue - look for DATELINE: New York City.

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