Easily the best thing showing on stage or screen in Atlanta this weekend, Atlanta Ballet’s production of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette is currently making a welcome return for its second run on the company schedule.
Once again, Friar Laurence tries to stop the terrible outcome for the young lovers, and once again he fails to prevent the double death that ends the famous story. In Maillot’s ballet, set to Prokofiev’s famous score, the well-meaning Friar Laurence hovers over the action as a meta-narrator, reliving the sequence of events in his mind, tortured by his own role in the tragedy.
The best laid plans fail the most miserably. John Welker as the friar in the Atlanta production, his movement set to the most modern and discordant elements of Prokofiev’s score, beautifully evokes that misery, the inescapable torment of a burdened conscience.
Like Welker, most of the leads are taking on their roles for the second time, and the benefits of a second approach are most clearly seen in the narrative, which seems crisper and stronger the second time around, and in the supporting characters, which pop off the stage with much more individuality and fullness.
Especially fine in that regard is Heath Gill, who makes a fantastic Mercutio. In his movement, he elicits both a joking playfulness and a pugnacious, youthful, masculine bravado.
I also especially admired Tara Lee (the only cast member taking on a major role for the first time) as an imperious and severe Lady Capulet. She looked fantastic, wild with grief and consumed with her obsession for vengeance after the death of Tybalt, and truly mad with it at the discovery of the poisoned Juliet.
None of this is to suggest that the romance of Romeo and Juliet doesn’t lie right at the center of the story. Alessa Rogers is a girlish but determined Juliet. The arc of her foot and the graceful mobility of her legs are both extraordinary things to behold.
On opening night, Rogers was especially compelling in second act duets with Welker and the show’s Romeo, Christian Clark. Clark makes a handsome Romeo, and the two dancers have an undeniable chemistry together, giving the show its romantic charge and also propelling the story to its tragic end.
Maillot’s production is a seamless mash-up of Shakespearean drama and ballet, a challenging combination for the dancers no doubt, but easily accessible for audiences. The production premiered in 1996 at Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, and it’s been a success for several smaller companies around the world since. The orchestra sounds great playing Prokofiev’s score, and it all looks spiffy on Ernest Pignon-Ernest’s stark, contemporary set.
Search high and low across every stage and screen in Atlanta if you must, but I promise you won’t find a better, more romantic show on any of them this weekend.