The nationally prominent Pacific Northwest Ballet has a reputation for its production of beautiful, intriguing, and sometimes challenging modern ballets. Its Nutcracker is the traditional way for Puget Sound families to introduce their children to ballet, and it offers a short season series package just for little ballet fans. But how do you transition your little ballet fan into a ballet aficionado who can appreciate the company’s more advanced offerings?
Of course the answer varies depending on the child – her maturity and level of interest – but taking your tween to a more mature story ballet is a logical next step after the fairy tale. My daughter, who is almost nine, has passionately enjoyed attending family ballets for half her life, and is currently obsessed with love stories, so we decided to try Roméo et Juliette.
Preparation is key. We read the plot summary on the Pacific Northwest Ballet web page. We talked about the story – how a wedding isn’t always a happy ending, why suicide is stupid and that tombs are not just for pharaohs. There was a lot to talk about. After all, the story of Romeo and Juliet is as much about sex, violence, and death as it is about love.
But if the story pushes boundaries, the dancing is immediately accessible. The choreography is peppered with the shrugged shoulders and casual athleticism that belong to youth. The opening street scene is immediately recognizable as a bunch of teenagers horsing around. I was still taking in the complex scene when the fight between Capulets and Montagues broke out, but my daughter, more in tune with playground dynamics, zeroed in on the primary characters immediately. The puppet show in Act II entertained her and helped orient her in the story. She was delighted by “Romeo’s rude friend” Mercutio, but more subtle and confusing elements came across, too – she called Juliet’s mother “Tybalt’s wife.”
The stylized vocabulary of a more traditional ballet might obscure some of the sticky points in the story, but the dancers’ performances of Christophe Maillot’s choreography are more expressive than even the movies could be.
Romeo (danced by James Moore, who was promoted to Principal on opening night) was especially notable for physically conveying the titanic swells of adolescent emotion even when standing still. The love scene in Act II would certainly have elicited a “Cover your eyes, kids” from my mother; Romeo’s slow-motion murder of Tybalt feels violent. Despite the intensity of the performance, the only thing my daughter found unsettling was the red-stained cloth signifying Mercutio’s death.
Roméo et Juliette is an excellent choice for introducing teens to ballet; its sympathetic and honest representation of emotion at an age where everything feels like the end of the world will immediately dispel any stereotypes they may have picked up about the art form. While potentially challenging for younger viewers, Roméo et Juliette is such an extraordinary production that the tween or younger, longtime ballet fan will likely enjoy the performance as much as my daughter did.
But it is an unflinching presentation of a very mature story, and if you’re at all uncomfortable discussing love, sex, murder and suicide with your child this week, you might prefer taking them to Hansel & Gretel, a narrated performance by the students at PNB School that begins March 17.
One final note: You can also hurry to get a babysitter before Roméo et Juliette closes on February 10. Roméo et Juliette may not be right for every young viewer, but it would make one heck of a date night for the grownups.
If you go ...
When: There are five performances left: 'Thursday, Feb. 7, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Feb. 8, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 9, 2:00 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Feb. 10, 1:00 p.m. Arrive early to allow time for parking, pre-ordering intermission snacks, and attending the pre-performance lecture at 6:30 (if your child is willing). Performances run 2 hours and 25 minutes, with one intermission.
Where: Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer Street, on the north edge of Seattle Center.
Tickets: Tickets start at $28 and go up to nearly $200. Every family member must have a ticket. There are no bad seats at McCaw Hall – do not hesitate to buy the cheapest seats available. Tickets can be purchased online at pnb.org. Pacific Northwest Ballet also participates in Seattle Center's Teen Tix program, which makes $5 rush tickets available for teens.
Parking: The Mercer Garage is connected to McCaw Hall by a sky bridge. Rates vary from $5-$15 depending on events at Seattle Center, and when full, it can take almost an hour after a performance to empty. Other pay lots in the neighborhood have similar pricing. Street parking is limited to 4 hours, and hard to come by. Consider taking the bus – look online to plan your route.
Photo credit: Angela Sterling, courtesy of Pacific Northwest Ballet
About the author: Gemma Alexander is a Seattle-based writer with two daughters and a longtime ballet aficionado.