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Perhaps it’s the way the Prokofiev score seems to shape the air into something silken and shimmering; perhaps it’s how Jerome Kaplan’s flowing costumes, caught in the breeze of movement, seem to dance all by themselves; perhaps it’s the appeal of a timeless story of young love, reminding all of us of a moment long ago. Whatever the cause, Jean-Christophe Maillot’s “Roméo et Juliette” has a magical effect on its audience, sweeping us up in its passionate emotions and stark beauty. The ballet, created in 1996 and in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s repertory since 2008, returned to McCaw Hall Friday for a two-week run, in fine form.

Though Maillot’s ballet is now familiar to PNB audiences, this edition brings the opportunity to see new performers take the opening-night spotlight. The two dancers who first brought Shakespeare’s famously star-crossed lovers to life on PNB’s stage have now moved on: Lucien Postlewaite and Noelani Pantastico, both breathtaking in the roles, have left the company to join Maillot’s Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. (They return for one guest performance Saturday night. Tickets are still available, but scarce.) On Friday, James Moore and Kaori Nakamura played the title characters, making them their own.

Moore (whose long-overdue promotion to principal dancer was announced onstage after the final curtain) brought a swagger to Roméo’s early scenes that made his transformation into a rapturous boy in love, moving as if in a dream, all the more affecting. Nakamura had a sweet tentativeness in her first moments, as befitted a very young girl not yet sure of her body; later, she developed a fiery urgency, as if love had taken hold of her and changed her. In the balcony pas de deux, McCaw Hall suddenly seemed like a tiny, intimate place; we could almost hear them breathing. Later, in a swirling lift in which Roméo gently cradles Juliette’s head in his hand, they seemed to have become one, alone in a world where no one else existed.

Others were present, and vividly so, on McCaw’s stage Friday night: Lindsi Dec’s marvelously steely Lady Capulet, kicking as if her leg was a knife’s blade; Karel Cruz’s soulful, grieving Friar Lawrence, his arms seemingly stretching to heaven; Jonathan Porretta’s reckless Mercutio; Batkhurel Bold’s regal Tybalt; Rachel Foster’s warm Nurse. But “Roméo et Juliette” is a tale of two lovers, and Moore and Nakamura beautifully continued what’s becoming a PNB tradition. Art can transform us, and this masterful ballet does so: it makes its dancers, and its watchers, forever young.

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Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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