Pacific Northwest Ballet Roméo et Juliette Review
February 4, 2022 | McCaw Hall – Seattle, WA, USA
Nothing fills a room quite like the billowing notes of Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet score.
On February 4th, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and the fabulous Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra, brought the heart-aching tale to life through melody and movement. Marked as their opening night, the performance was also special due to the upcoming retirement of the much-adored Noelani Pantastico, a long-standing Principal dancer with the company who portrayed Juliet that evening. Joining the company in 1997, Pantastico is set to close her dancing chapter with PNB and move back to her hometown in Carlisle, Pennsylvania to teach at her alma mater Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet.
Pacific Northwest Ballet Roméo et Juliette Review
Titled Roméo et Juliette, one might expect PNB’s version to take place in France but upon program inspection, we learn that Juliet is spelled in the classic sense, Romeo without the accent aigu, and that it indeed still takes place in fair Verona. In fact, the French part turns out to signify the version choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot presents us with. And his take is certainly unique.
Maillot makes Friar Lawrence a central figure by threading him throughout the story as if he is walking through his own memory. Through his silent screams, angered hands, and two additional figures meant to represent duality, we watch the Friar torture himself through the retelling of the ill-fated tale. It’s a good plot device. A new character perspective is introduced and the Friar makes for easy transitions between scenes. However, the crux of the character’s regret sits in his inability to inform Romeo of Juliet’s poisonous decision, thus driving both lead characters to their ends. Maillot unfortunately skips over this important detail.
The scenic designer, Ernest Pignon-Ernest, brought a futuristic minimalism to the stage design in the form of large, curved white walls and a precariously narrow slide, used as an entrance and exit by several characters. The balcony scene was accomplished by raising the slide and after expecting Pantastico to slide down the ramp, she unfortunately only dangled her legs over the edge and jumped into Romeo’s – James Yoichi Moore – outstretched arms.
The set overall provided a beautiful backdrop and allowed for easy scene changes as the walls glided across the stage to imitate different locations. Jérôme Kaplan achieved a luxurious quality in the costumes through shiny golds and silvers in plain silhouettes. The tiered ruffles of the nurse’s empire-waisted dress gave an air of innocence without being dowdy, which is a characteristic the nurse is so often painted with.
Maillot’s movement is highly gestural and relies heavily on hand and arm choreography and the repetition of specific moves. One being a slithering palm, undulating in a downward motion and the other being a steeple-like shape created either by one dancer or two, in the case of Juliet and Romeo’s first meeting.
Although repetitious, the metaphors work because the audience is in on the story from the very beginning; we are aware of the star-crossed lover’s fate and feel included in each symbolic expression. Angular arms and flat palms abound but a lack of creativity in jumps and partnered lifts left the choreography with a flatness, quite literally missing height.
However, Maillot masterfully injects Juliet’s ballroom solo with adolescent passion and, although missing the intricate lifts, the balcony and bedroom pas de deux are both feverish and heart-aching.
Pantastico is a superb Juliet. Having done the role since 2008, the story pulses through her body, even her eyes glisten with the innocence of a young fool in love. Instilling her ballroom solo with naïve wildness, her steps are almost too big and flamboyant to match anyone else at the ball. Her presence on stage was steeped in an intentional awareness of the present. She soaked up every elongated arabesque, wistful breath, and interaction with her fellow dancers on stage.
Retiring can almost feel like a countdown and can be an odd feeling being so close to the edge of your career but Ms. Pantastico relishes in the joy of being on stage and generously accepts the weighted role of Juliet.
Moore echoes his Juliet’s passionate enthusiasm through expansive moves that mirror the score. The pair have a chemistry and balance that only seasoned partners can achieve.
Also danced notably well were Leta Biasucci as the adoring nurse and Miles Pertl as the doomed Friar Laurence. It is so refreshing to see both roles given more meaty substance than in traditional productions.
Lady Capulet, Juliet’s mother, is danced fiercely by Elle Macy. Bewilderingly only just promoted to Principal dancer in 2021, Macy has a rich command of the music and her long lines elevate the domineering character.
James Kirby Rogers gives an excellent portrayal of the testy Tybalt and suffers a brutal death, aptly thrust upon him as a key protagonist.
A lamentable miss on Maillot’s part is the choreography for Mercutio. Although danced well by Ezra Thomson, Mercutio’s main characterizations are his crude “jokes” signified by either miming the look of a woman’s breasts or fondling women and men on stage. The superficial humor makes the character neither likable nor missed when he dies.
Seeing one of Pantastico’s last performances is truly a spectacle and portraying Juliet as a farewell role is an excellent homage to a dancer’s career.
Martha Graham famously said, “a dancer dies twice – once when they stop dancing, and this first death is more painful”
but Ms. Pantastico’s artistry will live on, emblazoned within the audience’s memories, the relationships with her esteemed colleagues, and the future of ballet… her students.
Featured Photo of Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers James Yoichi Moore and Noelani Pantastico in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette. Photo © AngelaSterlingPhoto.com.
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