Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Romeo et Juliette offers roles that challenge even the most brilliant of dancers. In PNB’s winter program, featured dancers Noelani Pantastico, Lesley Rausch and Jerome Tisserand, Laura Tisserand, Seth Orza, Jonathan Porretta, Margeret Mullin, others – met that challenge. Could they be transcendent? (Yes, is the short answer. Read on.)

So powerful in its inventiveness, and in its simplicity, Maillot’s work is strong even against the famed and formidable Prokofiev score. How so? Maillot’s choreography is – at the same time – lush and tender (even in just the caress of a foot), clever (think: major fight scenes), clean and witty (as with the Act 1 Nurse-Juliet-Lady Capulet pas de deux/trois), and witty (almost all small ensemble scenes). Whereas the music tends to overwhelm the dance of other Romeo and Juliet choreographers, Maillot’s work proves an equal match.  romo-et-juliette_7679551238_o

In the three performances I saw, the Pacific Northwest Ballet orchestra, under conductors Alastair Willis and Emil de Cou, rose to the occasion. At each show, the opening notes of the sweet strings, the first full-orchestra crescendo is chilling. Every crescendo thereafter becomes a thrill.

So, Music and Choreography, #1. Lights, set design (abstract, simple, understated), costumes (earth-tone gowns, simple tunics, glimmering shifts) – a close second. And the dance, what about the dance? For dance we need another rubric – I’ll use adjectives.

Transcendent: Seth Orza, Noelani Pantastico, Lesley Rausch, Laura Tisserand, Jerome Tisserand.
Transformed: Leta Biasucci, Kyle Davis, Dylan Wald.
Gorgeously reliable and terrific chemistry: (the opening night “bad boys” of Verona) Jonathan Porretta (A+ for batterie and passion, turns and falls), James Moore (A+ for joyfulness and charm), Benjamin Griffiths (A+ for all-things-technique)
Honorable mention: Miles Pertl

Last, first. Kudos to Pirtle for his strong soliloquys. His character is the great empath of the ballet – to the point of seeming sacrificial. As Friar Laurence, he is an interplay between Gumby-like stretching and steel-like elongation. Of the performances I saw (he was cast in the same role for the entire run), he played each night a little differently, growing as a soloist throughout.

Soloists Leta Biasucci, Kyle Davis, Kylee Kitchens, Sarah Ricard Orza, and not-a-corps-dancer Dylan Wald. These dancers have a fresh, dance-is-like-breathing quality to their movement.

Seth Orza. Seth Orza almost stole the show – so strong, engaging, nimble, and focused was his Tybalt. He had great chemistry with everyone.

Noelani Pantastico. Literally radiant in all she does, her sense of timing and play with weight is masterful. She is the embodiment of sheer abandon. No wonder, after nine performances in the first run at PNB, Maillot grabbed her for his own company (thankfully, she’s back). Pantastico is not just transcendent, she is in an altered consciousness throughout the ballet.noelani-pantastico-in-jean-christophe-maillots-romo-et-juliette_19537528956_o

Jerome Tisserand. Tisserand was a fully sentient being throughout this ballet. Each step was utterly natural. Tisserand’s Romeo was exuberant, goofy, careless, innocent. He was a partner, courageous and gracious, a noble equal to Rausch’s moving performance.

Laura Tisserand. Tisserand’s fierce and passionate Lady Capulet proved to be one of the most memorable performances of the program. Tisserand is captivating in her display of emotions, and in her strong core strength.

Lesley Rausch. lesley-rausch-jerome-tisserand-in-jean-christophe-maillots-romo-et-juliette_19375597760_oThis was a breakout role for Rausch. Every choice she made was the right one. And, almost always, it was the risky one. Brava – for giving us such a sympathetic and unforgettable portrayal, while not losing one technical beat. This is Rausch unleashed. She is unmatched in her gorgeous line, her ultra-flexible feet, each nuance, each accent of movement.

Margaret Mullin. Mullin offered one of the most delicious interpretations of The Nurse, which is saying quite a lot given the delightful renderings by Carrie Imler, Rachel Foster, Chalnessa Eames.

Clearly, this ballet, with this orchestra and these dancers, is a PNB triumph.

Images: Jonathan Porretta, Noelani Pantastico, Lesley Rausch and Jerome Tisserand/Photo credits: Angela Sterling

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