Pacific Northwest Ballet's performance of this classic (which runs through Sunday) is remarkable for a number of reasons, but reason number one is principal ballerina Noelani Pantastico. She's the one with in the photo above who seems to have perfect control of every muscle and joint in her body. She brought out the better dancing in her boyish Romeo (James Moore), and almost everybody else with whom she shared the stage. There's a temptation to play Juliet in a light and feathery way, but Pantastico brought rambunctiousness and strength to her portrayal of the star-crossed lover from Verona. Starting with such energy deepened the tragedy of her character's eventual and, for the audience, inevitable suicide.
Reason number two for why I think this show was remarkable involves Miles Pertl's performance of Friar Laurence. Unlike Shakespeare's tale, this story is told in flashback from the Friar's POV. He kills himself at the beginning, agonized by two acolytes (Kyle Davis and Price Suddarth) who serve as the Friar's shoulder angel and shoulder devil, but his ghost continues on. Like an audience member who's already familiar with the story, Friar Laurence knows how this love affair will turn out, and throughout the play it seems as if he's trying to escape his own role as both cupid and grim reaper. Pertl's rigid movements sell this struggle and suggest his state of moral paralysis. His tall, lean, and muscular figure stands out among the other playful and more bulky dancers. The following are the metaphors I wrote down while trying to describe his presence:
-switchblade in a sock drawer
-hammer in a patch of snow
-marble column in a river
You get what I'm trying to say. His effect is stunning, and he ultimately embodies the paradox central to this version of the play: How can we love knowing we will die?
Though Jean-Christophe Maillot's modern choreography and storytelling takes many liberties with Shakespeare's script, he maintained the bard's penchant for the bawdy by including a number of pedestrian movements that would've made any groundling proud.
Here is an incomplete list of ballet-ified everyday moves in this performance:
• double boob-grab
• the cabbage patch dance
• leap frog
• single-footed ass kick
• bipedal ass kick
• the Italian "fuck you"
• sweet backflip
• spectacular / cinematic slow-motion ballet street brawl
But the PNB's performance also retains one of the most important parts of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Though the play involves a number of grand romantic gestures—the ball, the balcony scene, the double suicide—the entire story turns on the tiniest details. Little miscommunications and slights snowball into deaths. There are also formal nuances. In the script, the lovers speak in woven sonnets—she's the "A" rhyme and he's the "B" rhyme and vice versa. Their twin sonnets close on a perfect rhymes in moments of passion, and on slant rhymes in moments of discord. Little formal intricacies like those enrich the play, challenging its reputation as one of Shakespeare's less complex works.
The intricate articulation of the hands and even of the faces of some of these dancers preserved the importance of tiny details in the script. The moment when the Nurse (Margaret Mullin) sticks her finger out and seems to write in the air with the sound of the piccolo killed me. As did the moment when Romeo escapes Juliet's embrace so that she accidentally kisses her own hands. The look on her face! Gah. This movement is done in slow-mo ballerina/o time and is played less for slapstick and more for foreshadowing—soon, Romeo will actually be ghost in her hands—which makes it more heartbreaking.
Prokofiev's gorgeous score is simple enough to do the work of telling a complex narrative involving multiple love interests, but nuanced enough to embody the endless contradictions and paradoxes of the story. If you can't make it out to the ballet tonight or tomorrow (FYI THIS IS A VERY GOOD VALENTINES DAY THING TO DO), then do yourself a favor and download the music. If you do go, bring the tissues: The person sitting next to me cried during the pas de deux right before the first intermission and also at the end, when, you know.