PNB’s <em>Roméo & Juliette</em> Redefines Hot and Bothered
If you’ve only ever seen Romeo and Juliet in Shakespeare’s tragedy, bathing in the incandescence of its lyrical fireworks, you’ve seen only half the story that could be told. Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Roméo & Juliette (at McCaw Hall through October 4, tickets $25-$160) takes the black-and-white of words, words, words, and transforms it into the technicolor of bodies in motion. That PNB can field the likes of Carla Körbes, Lucien Postlewaite, Olivier Wevers, Jonathan Porretta, and Ariana Lallone moves us into metaphorical HD territory.
Jean-Christophe Maillot’s choreography would be arresting if you weren’t so engrossed in simply watching it unfold the story of our two doomed lovers. As in the best musicals, when it feels somehow inevitable for a character to burst into song, with Maillot you feel flashes of recognition as ballet is reconstituted to mean something again.
When I first saw this production, I set aside Maillot’s reworking of the role of Friar Laurence. On second viewing, I have to admit I was too caught up in the feverish spectacle the first time to see what Maillot is up to. His ballet, after all, begins with Friar Laurence, who will spend the intervening time until the tomb aiding and abetting love’s course, and impotently trying to forestall tragedy.
He’s a counterpart to the score by Prokofiev, in which every unchained melody hovers over an ominous, rumbling murmur from the pit. He’s a counterpart to us, the audience. Opening the evening as he does, he returns with us to the scene of the trauma Western civilization can’t seem to escape (we’ve been retelling the story for over 500 years). If you think about it, there’s complicity embedded in the desire to hear the story one more time.
Perhaps that’s why Maillot has given Friar Laurence (and the fiendishly talented Olivier Wevers) a modern dance vocabulary–attired like a Jerome Robbins escapee, Wevers ties himself in knots of conflicted aims. He floats in and out, darts between the two lovers like an interfering ghost, spirits Juliette away into a pas de deux of abnegation. In the play, a vial of poison sounds like a plan–in dance, it’s a seduction.
It’s hardly possible to make too much of the teenage heat thrown off by Maillot’s Roméo and Juliette. It’s not the airbrushed trapped-in-TV-amber artifact of the CW’s 90210 retread (Future Anthropologist: “They fetishized a fantasy of recycled adolescence”), but is full of stumbles, stolen kisses, awkward strainings, and blind gropings. I did not stop to count the number of feels copped in the ballet, but you almost expect to see a separate grab-ass choreography listing. The crudeness is refreshing.
Lucien Postlewaite, with his shock of blond hair and chiseled everythings, gives you a Roméo who’s always half-a-step behind the events he’s watching unfold. Jonathan Porretta’s Mercutio, in contrast, is always two mocking steps ahead–he’s equally filled with juvenile rambunctiousness, but that’s partly for show. He’s a stir-the-pot type, and Tybalt (Batkhurel Bold, with a prideful, welded-spine posture) is exactly the kind of pot that dislikes Mercutio’s stirs.
After the frenetic exuberance of Roméo’s infatuation with Juliette–it’s like watching a vine wrap a trellis in fast-motion, every motion springs forth and hangs there in the air–there’s a single moment when Roméo inhabits himself, and it’s a moment of complete stillness. Postlewaite draws off to the side of the stage, and you see him collect himself before he acts. It’s like “the last time I saw him alive,” and it sticks with you.
Carla Körbes looks adorable at the ball, and plays kittenish with her bawdy nurse (Chalnessa Eames), but she goes to places with her Juliette that are viscerally disturbing. That’s sometimes courtesy of Maillot, but there’s also an intensity to her selection of Roméo and refusal of any other suitor that goes hand in hand with the grief-stricken screams she mimes so vividly you hear a ghost-scream in your head.
Maybe it has something to do with her being Lady Capulet’s daughter. The Lady in question, danced by Ariana Lallone, has (like Friar Laurence) strong modern dance inflections to her choreography. Sometimes I feel, watching Lallone, that PNB is passing up a goldmine in not releasing a Lallone action figure that bends in all directions. Here she’s sheathed in imposing black, and moves with the fluid bursts of a predator. Her unhinged discovery of Tybalt’s death embarrasses you in its ferocity but it’s as gripping as an electrical storm.
Around it all skitters Olivier Wevers with his two acolytes, turning trauma into ritual, ordering, reviewing. The beauty is that the beauty refuses to stay put.