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.
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.