Choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot is back in town, reviving one of his most impressive creations for a two-week run at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. Accompanied by the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra, Atlanta Ballet‘s “Roméo et Juliette” is a sleek, simple modern reincarnation of William Shakespeare’s classic love story. When I attended the dress rehearsal and press event that kicked off the performance, I was blown away by the beauty of his stage work and the talent of the dancers who bring each character to life.
From her very first moment onstage, Alessa Rogers is transformative as Juliet. Youthful innocence and fatally unbridled optimism imbue every movement she makes, and as the turbulent whirlwind of her first and only love story unfolds, she gains so much strength and resolve that it’s difficult not to feel like we’re watching someone grow up before our very eyes.
Meanwhile, Christian Clark’s Roméo is just as true to his legendary character’s rebelliously romantic spirit. He handles his deadly duel with a heartbreaking mix of fierceness and reluctance, and when he makes the final mistake of falling for Juliette’s trick, his grief and horror are palpable all the way in the back row.
To prove the fact that Maillot was born for the medium of ballet, his most impressive feat is his ability to remove the original play’s words without losing any of the emotional impact of its plot.
Shakespeare’s legacy continues to dominate and shape the way the modern world approaches literary criticism and dramatic acting. However, most of his influence revolves around the language he used to tell his now-legendary tales. Filmmakers still stick to his original script, professors analyze his puns and rhymes, and historians even search for clues about his life in the royal in-jokes and sentence structures that pepper his plays. That’s why it’s so astonishing to see the same plot become even more moving in the absence of any words, or even very many set dressings or costume flourishes.
Instead, the emotions speak for themselves, and the connections between characters are tangible and breathtaking. The dancers aren’t even limited by the fact that their plot turns are expected and their fates are sealed. Without words or elaborate costumes and backdrops, they fill every familiar scene with surprising amounts of tension, emotion and personality. They do justice to the play unlike anything I’ve seen before.
Monaco’s Princess Caroline is among Maillot’s biggest supporters, and it’s easy to see why. Everything about this production feels like stepping into the lives of modern royals, complete with all the effortless fashion, family dysfunction and anachronistic beauty that makes the rest of us look like mere mortals by comparison.
It’s no coincidence that the final performance is on Valentine’s Day. Even the single and cynical won’t be able to resist the contagious spirit of romance that fills the theater when these dancers are onstage. For two and a half hours, I was left reeling and pining — and hoping for a happy ending, despite myself — as I watched the Capulets and Montagues crumble under the weight of their own grudges and mis-communications. But the comedy was alive and well too, thanks to the playful levity provided by the dancers who played the nurse, friar and Benvolio.
To paraphrase Juliet herself, an Atlanta Ballet production by any other name would probably be just as devastatingly beautiful. However, the bard’s timeless tragedy seems to have inspired the choreographer and dancers to disappear completely into fair Verona, and fortunately for us, they take the audience right along with them.
Photo credit: Atlanta Ballet, Kim Kenney, Charlie McCullers
Atlanta Ballet’s Roméo et Juliette is performing through Saturday, February 14th at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. Get your tickets to see this amazing production HERE.