The flush of first love takes shape in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s “Roméo et Juliette” at Pacific Northwest Ballet as two skillful principal dancers capture the emotion of the Shakespearean classic set to Sergei Prokofiev’s shivery score.
Sergei Prokofiev’s shivery score for “Roméo et Juliette” is what yearning sounds like. And Jean-Christophe Maillot’s ballet, back at Pacific Northwest Ballet through Valentine’s Day, is what yearning, and that exquisite flush of first love, looks like. In its most transcendent moments — particularly the “balcony scene” pas de deux in Act 1 — it’s poetry in motion, two dancers weaving together as one, each simultaneously a love-struck teen and an angel of grace.
Friday’s opening night brought together principal dancers Noelani Pantastico (just returned from a seven-year stint at Maillot’s Les Ballets de Monte Carlo) and James Moore as the star-crossed lovers. Both are not only fiery, soaring dancers but skilled actors who sweep us into the moment. But if you’re not sitting close enough to see their faces, their bodies tell the story: Moore’s weightless collapse to the floor into a puppyish roll, as if love had so walloped him he could no longer stand; Pantastico’s happy little shiver — you could feel the chill of the night, and that it didn’t matter — as she gazed out from the balcony at her Roméo. Or both of them, in a sublime moment during the balcony pas de deux, as he wonderingly placed her pointed foot on the ground and then rose, his rapt face moving up her leg, lifting her as if she had simply become part of him.
This is PNB’s fourth presentation of Maillot’s “Roméo et Juliette,” which had its local premiere in 2008, and it’s uncanny how fresh it still feels. I’ve seen it seven or eight times, and yet there are still moments in the ballet that surprise and thrill me. I do wonder, upon repeat viewings, whether the storytelling makes much sense to those who neither read the Shakespeare play nor the program synopsis (particularly about Juliette’s “death”), but I suspect it doesn’t matter — the key moments, of love and tragedy, ring true.
‘Roméo et Juliette’
Pacific Northwest Ballet, through Feb. 14 at McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle. $30-$187 (pnb.org or 206-441-2424).
On opening night, much of the cast seemed smoothly familiar in their roles: Jonathan Porretta as Mercutio, Benjamin Griffiths as Benvolio, Margaret Mullin as the Nurse, Seth Orza as a slyly grinning Tybalt. Laura Tisserand’s endless limbs and elegant carriage suit Lady Capulet, though I wished for just a bit more sharpness and abandon in her mourning scenes. (Louise Nadeau and Ariana Lallone, to name two Lady Capulets of past years, flailed with such wildness you feared they might snap in two.) Corps de ballet member Miles Pertl, with haunted authority, made an impressive debut as Friar Laurence, both living the tale and retelling it, powerless to stop the tragedy.
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But every “R & J” comes down to its central couple, and Pantastico and Moore danced as if possessed by love, perpetually interwoven in what seemed like the movement equivalent of finishing each other’s sentences. In the hands of performers like these, this ballet — like the story it tells — will never grow old.