At the heart of Romeo and Juliet: City Opera Ballet produces a new, intimate take on the classic tragedy

By Amanda Knox

The creaky, old Value Village off Pike St. on Capitol Hill may have been gutted and closed to the public, but the building itself still shows signs of life. Upstairs, where the men’s and children’s sections once resided, the scratched wood floors have been tiled over with large, black, vinyl mats. Here, every Wednesday, ballerinos and ballerinas wearing long johns and knee socks pounce, pirouette, and plié.

They are rehearsing for City Opera Ballet’s original production of Romeo and Juliet, which is unlike any take on the classic tragedy that you’ve seen before. Amber Willett, director and choreographer, has crafted a production around the overlooked aspects of the story: the immaturity of Romeo and Juliet, the loving bonds within their separate families, and the dignified grief that they all share. Where you’d usually see mature, principle dancers in the title roles, Willett has chosen the young and free-spirited David Strong as Romeo, next to the waiflike Alison Epsom as Juliet. Willet has expanded those world-building scenes that shed light on the supporting characters. Juliet plays hide-and-seek with her governess. Romeo’s bros tussle playfully and slap high-fives. Paris and Juliet go through with their wedding. And both the Capulets and the Montagues are given more stage time than usual to grieve over Romeo and Juliet’s bodies and ultimately come together through that grief.

Willett has also mixed elements of modern dance and charades-like acting into the classic ballet style. She’s encouraged her dancers to play around with their characters and loosen up about traditional forms of expression which can come across as more artful than genuine, like the grand, sweeping kisses that leave a good 12 inches of air between lips and cheek. The result is a classically beautiful dance amply speckled with surprisingly fun and endearing gestures.

Willett herself has been a professional dancer for many years, but this is her debut as choreographer-director. She’s had a hand in all parts of the production’s creation and coordination: casting, directing, scheduling. She even consulted Jon Steinmeier in the writing of the music. Steinmeier’s original score also seeks to emphasize world-building and relationships. Willett describes the music as “moody,” a portrait of the how the characters are relating to each other on stage.

Set within Meydenbauer Center’s intimate, 400-seat theatre, City Opera Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet promises to bring the audience closer to the raw and relatable humanity behind the epic tragedy.

City Opera Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet plays Oct 8 & 9, 2016 at The Theatre at Meydenbauer Center (11100 NE 6th St., Bellevue, WA 98004). Tickets ranging from $17-$45 are on sale now and may be purchased online at or by phone at 1-800-838-3006.

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