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Dancers Alessa Rogers and Christian Clark; Photo by Charlie McCullers

For many aspiring dancers, dancing the role of Juliet is the ultimate dream. Some dancers train their entire lives for the opportunity to one day have a chance to audition for the role. Atlanta Ballet’s Alessa Rogers took on the role for a second time February 6 to 14 at the Cobb Performing Arts Center. The Company performed Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Romeo and Juliette, a contemporary rendition of Shakespeare’s tragedy.

Maillot, who is also resident choreographer at Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, premiered the work with the French company in 1999. It has since been performed in the U.S. by Pacific Northwest Ballet and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre to critical acclaim.

Last year, Atlanta Ballet performed Maillot’s version of Shakespeare’s tragedy and impressed audiences with the minimalist take on the classic love story, portrayed in Ernest Pignon-Ernest’s set, Jérôme Kaplan’s neutral costumes and the dancers’ angular movements.

This year, the dancers committed more fully to the roles by allowing Maillot’s movement to speak for itself. Though the movements were often shape-driven, the dancers fully embodied each step with an effortless precision.

The audience was introduced to Juliette and the Nurse several minutes into the ballet when Rogers ran onto the stage in only a robe, capturing the audience’s heart with an innocent wistfulness portrayed in her every movement. In contrast to Maillot’s oblique choreography for Friar Laurence, Maillot created swooping circular movements for Juliette. The Nurse, convincingly danced by Rachel Van Buskirk, had a key role in Maillot’s ballet, transforming the traditionally tame role into that of a quirky, quick-witted, and kind caregiver. Van Buskirk’s movements were fast and unpredictable, yet intricately technical at the same time.

Alessa Rogers as Juliette; Photo by Charlie McCullers

Christian Clark danced the role of Romeo with playfulness, bravado, and athleticism, incorporating strength and control into a role that is often danced recklessly. Together, Clark and Rogers’ movements complemented each other, and when dancing together, the two seemed to move as one. Maillot cleverly crafted a pas de deux centered around Romeo and Juliette touching the palms of their hands together for the duration of the phrase of choreography, directly inspired by Shakespeare’s famous text:

“For saints have hands that pilgrims hands do touch, And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss” (1.5.99).

As Mercutio, Heath Gill captured the audience with his daring athleticism, youth, and wit. And Benjamin Stone delivered a convincing performance as Benvolio. The two dancers possess a camaraderie that translated to the stage. Together, with Clark, they authentically portrayed the friendship between the three characters. Tara Lee as Lady Capulet danced with a maturity that seemed to imply knowledge of the coming tragedy. Still, she emanated grief and sadness after finding Juliette’s body.

Each Atlanta Ballet dancer committed fully to his or her role. The result was a performance that left the audience feeling as if they had fallen in love again for the first time.

Written by Christen Sewell Weimer

Christen Sewell Weimer

An Atlanta native, Christen Sewell Weimer embodied a passion for movement at a young age. Before fully actualizing her love of dance, Christen competed both nationally and internationally as a rhythmic gymnast. Transitioning to the art of dance came somewhat organically for her when she enrolled in the school at Atlanta Ballet in 2000. Christen’s pursuit of movement propelled her first to Indiana University’s Ballet program and then to New York, where she studied, choreographed and performed at Barnard College, Columbia University. Christen graduated magna cum laude from Barnard in 2006 with a BA in Psychology and a minor in Dance. Christen has performed professionally with Brooks and Company Dance, as well as with Bodiography Contemporary Ballet. She also occasionally dabbles in commercial work, and in 2001 Christen was featured as a rhythmic gymnast in Outkast’s music video, “Trans DF Express.” Christen furthered her studies at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, from where she received an MFA in Dance Performance in 2011. Christen was certified through the Mind Body Dancer® 200 Yoga Teacher Training with TaraMarie Perri. Through this comprehensive yoga teacher training, she was certified at the 200-hour level to teach alignment-based, breath-focused, mindful Vinyasa. (www.mindbodydancer.com). Currently, Christen serves on faculty in the Drama and Dance department at Spelman College, creates and teaches movement to avid dancers and periodically reviews the Atlanta dance scene for DIY Dancer. Christen would like to thank her family, friends, mentors and students, who continually inspire her.