Roméo and Juliette live on at Atlanta Ballet

Written by Colleen McNally
Photo by Charlie McCullers

9919 - Romeo et Juliette. Dancers C Clark and A Rogers. Photo by Charlie McCullers

If romance is in the air this month, it’s presence is thick in the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center. Atlanta Ballet presents Jean-Christophe Maillot’s “Roméo et Juliette” opened last weekend and runs through Feb. 15.

When the curtain open, the projectors lights illuminate the translucent screens with the cast credits. A co-production between Pacific Northwest Ballet and Atlanta Ballet, with staging by members of Maillot’s original cast, the list represents an international collaboration for the love of dance.

A single silhouette, barely visible, stands still behind the screen, waiting. The white writing against the dark backdrop is reminiscent of the start of an old film. Maybe the familiar feeling is because Roméo and Juliet’s timeless love story is one we’ve seen so many times before since Shakespeare first brought it to a London stage in the late 16th century. Since then, the play has had countless adaptations in film and on stage; however, none are quite like this performance. Plenty of surprises are in store for even the most devoted fans.

Lights brighten the silhouette, revealing Friar Laurence, played by John Welker. With the help of two acolytes — additions created by Maillot, danced by Alexandre Barros and Miguel Angel Montoya — the Friar’s character is the narrator that guides the audience through the tale. In the ballet, Shakespeare’s words are translated into a new language, conveyed through movement of their bodies.

The minimalistic sets and simplistic costuming further allow the dance to speak for itself, revealing the story in essence. The contrasting black and white followed by many shimmering shades of gray represent simultaneous themes of duality and ambiguity of adolescence. Through the young lovers’ passion, the opposing Montague and Capulet houses are united — if only it was that simple.

Dancing the role of Roméo is Christian Clark, alongside Alessa Rogers as Juliette. As Act I comes to a close, part of the set rises to represent the iconic Balcony scene in which Roméo declares his love for her. Together, the duo convey their desperation and each other so well through the choreography. As they join hands in dance, their conformed bodies physically express the Bard’s famous sonnets.

True to the spirit of Shakespeare’s work, the approximately two hour and 15 minute performance has much more offer than just romance. The show can be enjoyed by all ages, and not just those in love. Dads with their bun-wearing, ballet flat-clad daughters, perhaps future Juliettes, were present in the crowd. Comedic moments, especially thanks to Roméo’s sidekicks Mercutio and Benvolio as well as Juliette’s nurse, played by Heath Gill, Benjamin Stone and Rachel Van Buskirk respectively, kept the audience laughing.

Almost as soon as the marriage is consummated in the second act, it is clear the wheel of fate is spinning faster as the set quickly changes. The Friar’s one intent for peace leads to a devastatingly different outcome. As the plot intensifies, so does Sergei Prokofiev’s score, performed by the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra.

Despite knowing their destiny, the performance sweeps you back in time and allows you to get caught in the action, eager to see how the Friar’s plan will play out for the love-crazed couple. Finally, in the heart-wrenching Scene 10 at the Tomb, below a beautifully designed starry-skied set, the star-crossed lovers join each other in eternity. Their story lives on.

For more information on show times, casting and ticket sales, call 404-892-3303 or visit atlantaballet.com.