Romeo and Juliet Ballet: the Endless Love Story

Romeo and Juliet is a ballet based on celebrated Shakespeare’s work. Tragic love stories have populated the literary universe forever. But this story is the most famous, the most represented. And the one that still manages to move due to its sensitivity. It is probable that William Shakespeare based on other stories written years before when he wrote Romeo and Juliet. For example, in the 14th century, the famous Dante Alighieri had mentioned Montagues and Capulets in his Divine Comedy. On the other hand, Shakespeare describes the scene with incredible ease. That may be because the author had spent a period in northern Italy fleeing the plague striking London at that time.

When was Romeo and Juliet ballet first performed?

This masterpiece of Russian choreography didn’t have an easy start. The Moscow Bolshoi commissioned this ballet from Prokofiev in 1934. The composer worked on the libretto with Sergei Radlov, a great connoisseur of Shakespeare’s work. At first, they thought to change the ending with the intention that the protagonists wouldn’t die. But this idea was discarded. And they faithfully followed the author storyline. So, the score was ended in 1935. However, the dancers objected that it was impossible to dance due to its rhythmic complexity. 

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Although its premiere was postponed, its music began to spread through the concert halls in Moscow in the format of suites. But the composer continued working on it. At last, this ballet was premiered at the Brno Opera House (then Czechoslovakia) on December 30, 1938, with choreography by Vania Psota. After the resounding success, the Kirov Theater commissioned a new choreography from Leonid Lavrosky. He was a dancer and artistic director of the company. And he worked closely with Prokofiev on the modifications of the score. Finally, it was premiered at the Kirov in 1940 and achieved great success.

Constantin Sergueiev and Galina Ulanova played the roles of Romeo and Juliet. And they danced it at the Bolshoi premiere in 1946, too. This character accompanied Ulanova throughout her career. Also, she danced it in London on the Ballet tour Bolshoi and took it to the movies. Besides, it was the work she chose for her farewell to dance.

Which are the most famous versions of the Romeo and Juliet ballet?

Starting with Lavrovsky’s original choreography, many authors created their own versions. Among the most outstanding, we find the work of the South African John Cranko (1958). This version was originally created for the ballet at La Scala in Milan. A couple of years later, Kenneth MacMillan drew on Cranko’s work to create a version for the Royal Opera House. Also, the famous Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev performed this ballet at its premiere. MacMillan’s version is currently one of the most popular in all theatres in the world.

In 1977, the great Nureyev created a version for the London Festival Ballet (now the English National Ballet). That is one of the most successful versions from a choreographic and dramatic point of view. It has all the originality that only a genius can bring.

What is the story of the Romeo and Juliet ballet?

Act I

Scene 1 ‑ The Market place

Romeo is in the market with his cousin Benvolio and his friend Mercutio. There are members of two rival families: the Montagues and the Capulets. Tybalt Capulet and two friends arrive and begin fighting with the Montagues. At that moment, the Prince of Verona appears and arrests the participants in the fight.

Scene 2 ‑ Juliet ante‑room in the Capulets house

Juliet plays with her nurse, who tries to make her understand that she is no longer a child. After that, her mother, Lady Capulet, tells her that Paris has asked for her hand. Also, her father, Lord Capulet, introduces him to her fiancé. But Juliet remains indifferent.

Scene 3 ‑ Outside the Capulets house 

It’s Juliet birthday. So, the doors open, and Lord Capulet and Tybalt come out to greet the guests. Romeo gets Mercurio and Benvolio to enter his rivals house with him.

Scene 4 ‑ The ballroom

Julieta arrives at the party with her courtship and her nurse. She dances with Paris. And at one point, her gaze meets Romeo. Then an intense love arises, destined to end never. After that, they meet in the gardens. But Tybalt recognizes Romeo and orders him to leave. Lastly, Lord Capulet steps in and welcomes him as a guest.

Scene 5 ‑ Juliet balcony 

Juliet dreams of meeting Romeo again. Suddenly, she’s frightened by seeing shadows in her garden. But she discovers that it is Romeo. And they both swear eternal love.

Act I – Juliet’s variation- Alessandra Ferri

Act II

Scene 1 ‑ The Market place

Romeo is in the square with his friends. He feels that he has known true love. At this time, Juliet’s nurse appears with a letter to Romeo. And in this letter, Juliet proposes to him to marry in secret. 

Scene 2 ‑ The chapel

Romeo and Julieta are secretly married by Friar Laurence.

Scene 3 ‑ The marketplace

Tybalt arrives drunk and starts looking for a fight. Then, he murders Mercutio. So, Romeo decides to avenge his friend and kills Tybalt. After that, Lady Capulet arrives at the marketplace and finds her nephew dead. Finally, Romeo is punished with exile.

Roberto Bolle and Misty Copeland – Teatro alla Scala


 Scene 1 ‑ The bedroom

Juliet is asleep, but Romeo must leave and visit her briefly. Lord and Lady Capulet enter Juliet bedroom believing that she is sad because of Tybalt death. To console her, they announce that she will marry Paris that same day. But Julieta rejects the proposal.

Scene 2 ‑ The chapel

Juliet asks Friar Laurence for help. He is also an apothecary, and so he devises a plan. Then, he’d give Juliet a potion that would make her pass for dead until Romeo returns and waits for her to wake up. Finally, he would tell Romeo the plan himself.

Scene 3 ‑ The bedroom

Juliet returns to her bedroom, determined to carry out the plan. So, she pretends to accept her marriage to Paris. After a while, the nurse and the courtship find Juliet lying cold and inert in her bed, much to the despair of her parents.

Scene 4 ‑ The Capulet family crypt

Already exiled, Romeo hears about Juliet death and decides to go to meet her. Meanwhile, Laurence gives Benvolio the letter that explains the plan. But he doesn’t reach Romeo in time. While Juliet funeral is taking place in Verona, Romeo enters her crypt. Paris, who is in the crypt, laments the tragedy. But when Paris sees Romeo, he tries to attack him with his dagger. After a brief fight, Romeo kills him. So, he tries to revive Juliet. But he fails to do so and poisons himself. A few minutes later, Juliet wakes up and see Romeo lying on the ground. Then, she takes the Paris dagger and takes her life. Agonizing, she reaches up to Romeo body and exhales her last breath. Lovers meet again in eternity.

Act III – Bedroom Pas de Deux – Yasmine Naghdi and Matthew Ball

To sum up, Romeo and Juliet is a complex ballet due to its melody and rhythm. So, it reflects the atmosphere created by William Shakespeare in his eponymous work of dramatic love between the two lovers from Verona, Juliet Capulet and Romeo Montague.

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American Ballet Theatre

July 9, 2024 – July 13, 2024New York, New York
Metropolitan Opera House
Romeo and Juliet ABT

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