Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Romeo and Juliet retells Shakespeare’s classic story through the emotional journey of its characters. Maillot’s choreography expresses the tragic love story with as much dance as drama and mime, and falls back on the narrative only at pivotal points of the plot. This demands even more for the performers to be very clear on their intentions and specific in their expression. The successes in Maillot’s interpretation and of tonight’s performers affirms the universality of this story. 

Maillot created this ballet in 1996 for Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, where he has been artistic director since 1993. The ballet premiered at the Pacific Northwest Ballet in 2008 and was restaged in 2013 and again for this season. 

Romeo and Juliet's pas de deux in the balcony scene at the end of the first act cumulates the expressive qualities of the choreography and the talents of principal dancers Noelani Pantastico, as Juliet, and James Moore, as Romeo. Pantastico is sublime in this role. She captures great complexity in her portrayal that brings forth, at once, innocence, passion, conviction and sheer bliss of being in love. Her fluency with this role and with Maillot’s aesthetic is evident. From her debut as Juliet in PNB's premiere of this ballet in 2008, Maillot invited her to join his company in Monte Carlo, where Pantastico continued to dance this role many times; she has only returned to PNB this season. No matter how talented and versatile a dancer is, it requires time and practice to fulfill each choreographer’s unique aesthetic. It is truly a pleasure to watch this ballet with a seasoned dancer such as Pantastico.

Her talent is reciprocated by Moore, as the lovelorn Romeo, whose every move and gesture oozes love and devotion for Juliet. This performance reunites Moore and Pantastico in these roles which they had danced together in the PNB performances of 2008. Their phrases of intimacy and playfulness are a joy to watch, and they bring depth to the adolescent characters they portray. When the duet ends with Pantastico and Moore in parting, their arms desperately reaching towards one another, their separation conveys an even more insatiable longing.   

Maillot's story adds an interesting perspective in the significance of the character of Friar Lawrence, who demonstrates control over the ensemble – in his ability to stop and start their motion – yet, helpless as he watches the tragedy unfold. The challenging role is given to corps de ballet member, Miles Pertl. Pertl looms in and out of each scene reacting to the events, yet his characterization seems incomplete without the portrayal of his desires and intentions.  

Jonathan Porretta, as Mercutio, with Benjamin Griffiths, as Benevolio, made a lively trio with Moore's Romeo, and Margaret Mullin's impeccable comedic timing in the role of The Nurse created a memorable character. Laura Tisserand's dramatic portrayal of Lady Capulet commanded the stage at each appearance. 

For how eloquently the drama builds, the final scene of Romeo and Juliet's death is surprisingly unclear. Romeo, upon presuming Juliet's death by poison, seems to commit suicide by diving his chest into a wedge-shaped slope on the ground. Similarly, Juliet, waking to find Romeo has died, follows by wrapping a red scarf around her neck, presumably strangling herself. Here is where prior knowledge of the narrative fills in the blanks. 

The drama is appropriately complimented by a muted and inventive set (designed by Ernest Pignon-Ernest) of white panels that shift and move to frame each scene, and a ramp protruding down to centre stage that serves multiple purposes - as a bed, as Juliette’s balcony – and adds depth and interest to the scene. Costumes designed by Jerome Kaplan define the Capulets from Montagues with beige tones for one and darker tones for the other. The sheer layers in the costumes balanced well with the subtle set. Lighting design by Dominique Drillot added just enough texture to the white panels, and a suggestive cross cast across Friar Lawrence's face when Juliet falls asleep from the poison. Maillot staged the scenes in perfect accompaniment with Profokiev’s score, played by the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra, and heightened the music’s cinematic effect.