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Atlanta Ballet's Valentine's Day Roméo et Juliette ideal for lovers of dance

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The Atlanta Ballet’s production of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette opened Friday night at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. As part of the 2013-14 season this version of Shakespeare’s ill-fated love story is appropriately timed to coincide with Valentine’s Day.

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Maillot’s version of the most poignant of Shakespeare’s tragedies provides a stripped down, contemporary, white paneled backdrop on stage ensuring that only the music, lighting and the dancers’ performances can convey the raw emotions and atmosphere of the story. This production excels, particularly in the orchestra’s interpretation of the music and the dancers performance providing the audience with an evocative, emotional rendition of theatre’s most renowned love story.

Led by guest conductor Ari Pelto, the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra’s performance of Prokofiev’s score, rises and falls, accelerates and slows the tempo and guides the dancers on stage wonderfully creating tension and evoking passion throughout the three act performance.

The roles of Roméo and Juliette are wonderfully interpreted by Christian Clark and Alessa Rogers. Both convey an appropriate level of youthful wide-eyed innocence and subsequent infatuation of their first love, both in their dance and their facial expressions.

The performances of Clark and Rogers would carry the show because of the prominence of their characters and their performances but the wonderful aspect of the Atlanta Ballet’s production is that the other roles are wonderfully danced and the quality of those performances complements the title roles.

Shakespeare's play thrives on the conflict of the Montagues and Capulets and this ballet does so too but there are other contradictions too.

Mercutio is Romeo’s best friend and counterpoint. As tender and innocent as Romeo is, Mercutio is playfully bawdy and this personality comes through time and again with Heath Gill’s excellent interpretation.

The "villainous" Capulet family are dressed in black and are perfectly characterized by the matriarch Lady Capulet, played by Christine Winkler with the perfect blend of animosity toward the Montagues and stern affection for Juliette. Jonah Hooper as Tybalt is deserving of credit as the primary Capulet protagonist and eventual killer of Mercutio.

Friar Laurence is a central character in the story providing the young lovers moral support, counsel, subsequently marrying them late in the second act. At the same time there is a darker side to the friar’s personality that comes through, time and again, in Welker’s performance. Fitting that the show ends with Friar Lawrence’s remorse as he stands over the lifeless lovers.

While the dance is important it is apparent that just as significant are the facial expressions and the hand motions of the principals. The mimes provided by Roméo, Juliette, and to a similar degree by Mercutio and Lady Capulet add significantly to the story but it is the gestures of Friar Laurence become a integral, telling, part of the story.

Overall Jean Christophe Maillot's Roméo et Juliette is an enthralling and captivating ballet and the Atlanta Ballet's production does the story, and Maillot's interpretation of it, wonderful justice.

The ballet continues through the 15th with tickets still available for both the afternoon and evening performances. Check www.atlantaballet.com for availability and pricing. Goldstar is offering discounted tickets for the performance on February 13 at https://www.goldstar.com/events/atlanta-ga/romeo-et-juliette

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