BOSTON — 'Romeo and Juliet" is arguably the most famous love story in the English language, with a timeless quality that resonates six centuries after its original setting. There is forbidden love, innocence and rebellion, familial gang wars, murder, and suicide.
Not surprisingly, "Romeo and Juliet" has also become one of the most choreographed tales in ballet, with the earliest versions dating from 18th-century Italy. In this century alone, there have been numerous notable interpretations by a range of 20th-century choreographers - Frederick Ashton, John Cranko, Kenneth MacMillan, John Neumeier, Choo San Goh - all set to Sergei Prokofiev's landmark 1934 score.
So, why would a young choreographer creating his first full-length ballet choose a story with such a long, illustrious history?
"It's a story I always wanted to tell," is the simple explanation from Daniel Pelzig, whose new version of the ballet was recently given its world premire by the Boston Ballet. "I felt it played into my strengths as a choreographer in terms of storytelling, emotional depth, my ability to make pas de deux work, my interest in character development through dance sequences."
During Pelzig's tenure as resident choreographer at the Boston Ballet for the past two years, he has made his mark as a brilliant storyteller, creating ballets with memorable contexts and rich characterizations. In fact, character is perhaps where Pelzig's "Romeo and Juliet" differs most dramatically from its predecessors.
"I wanted to approach the story not as a melodrama as it is often done, but go straight to the small details of human behavior," he explains. "I wanted to create as much about family and marriage as about the two leads. I didn't want to create caricatures or cartoons. None of the characters are black and white. They all have great faults and assets."
His aim was also to chart Juliet's transformation. Pelzig's opening-night Juliet, the charming Pollyana Ribeiro, grows from shy, playful child to self-assured, fiercely determined young woman right before our eyes. Ribeiro begins the ballet with a light airy grace that becomes more full-bodied and sensuous as the story progresses.
Patrick Armand's Romeo is an ardent, muscular hero, more jock than poet. He moves through Pelzig's lightning turns, quick footwork, and high leaps with impeccable control, a firm, chiseled clarity, and well-oiled precision. The two together are convincing as young lovers in the throes of newly ignited desire. Their first meeting, beautifully constructed as the delicate meeting of their hands, is electric. Their final tryst, each thinking the other dead, is the full physical expression of heartbreaking grief.
Pelzig's choreographic vocabulary sticks close to classical standards. He gets most adventurous in Romeo and Juliet's pas de deux, with partnering that ranges from breathtaking to a little too inventive for its own good.
Mary Jo Dondlinger's exquisite lighting illuminates the passage of time as eloquently as Romeo and Juliet's emotional transformation.