In defiance of its tragic ending, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet remains the greatest romance of all time, demonstrating the power of love in its many forms. Peter Martins’ staging of this eternal classic, set to Prokofiev’s glorious accompaniment, embraces naïve excitement, betrayal, despair, and steadfast resolution, emphasizing the innocence and youthful optimism of its two heroes while proving that even in death true love cannot be overcome.
For the Lincoln Kirstein Centennial Celebration in 2007, New York City Ballet presented the world premiere of this full-length production of Romeo + Juliet, choreographed by Peter Martins. The production featured not only the dancers of New York City Ballet, but also students and faculty of the School of American Ballet. Kirstein, who was born on May 4, 1907, co-founded NYCB and SAB with George Balanchine, fulfilling his dream of creating a world-class training ground and ballet company for American dancers. "While Lincoln was a towering figure in a number of cultural arenas, the organizations that were nearest and dearest to him were New York City Ballet and the School of American Ballet, so it seemed only fitting to honor his centennial with a production that unites and celebrates both of these organizations," said Martins.
After The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet is perhaps the most choreographed ballet of the last 60 years. Most versions are set to Sergei Prokofiev’s score, although some choreographers have used music by Tschaikovsky, Berlioz, and Delius. While Martins’ work uses the Prokofiev score, he has streamlined the action into two acts with one intermission (instead of the usual three acts and two intermissions).
The scenery and costumes were designed by acclaimed Danish artist Per Kirkeby, who previously collaborated with Martins on the 1996 production of Swan Lake for the Royal Danish Ballet, which entered NYCB’s repertory in 1999. Kirkeby’s use of vibrant colors and broad brushstrokes pays homage to artist Georges Rouault and his work for George Balanchine in the 1929 Constructivist-inspired Ballets Russes production of Prodigal Son. So, too, does the moveable unit set that allows scenes to change before one’s eyes, the action moving seamlessly from a bustling town square to Juliet’s bedroom, from a grand ball room to a moonlit balcony. Only the ninth full-length work to enter the Company’s repertory, Martins’ Romeo + Juliet is the second Shakespearean classic to be made into a full-length ballet for NYCB; the first, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was created by Balanchine in 1962.
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