Natalia Ashikhmina & Mark Krieger in Romeo and Juliet. Photos: Josh Mauser

Romeo and Juliet

Choreography by Alun Jones
Music by Sergei Prokofiev

A review by Samantha Morrison

Entire contents are copyright © 2024 by Samantha Morrison

There was a definite energy in the air at The Kentucky Center for the Arts last night. A full house was arriving and the lobby was packed. Among those awaiting the show were seven decades of dancers, staff, and patrons who have come back on a reflective journey of their time with the Louisville Ballet. Greetings rang out between friends who had been long separated and excited conversation created a loud buzz around the bar. To top it all off, this is the last weekend that we will all enjoy the lovely artistry of  Natalia Ashikhmina dancing the role of Juliet, opposite Mark Krieger as Romeo, in Romeo and Juliet. After eighteen years dancing with the Louisville Ballet, Ms. Ashikhmina is retiring from performing with a great dramatic role, acknowledging her ability as an actress. Juliet must be danced by an artist capable of beautiful movement but also one who can act and communicate the complexity of the part of a loving young woman facing an unfair world. Everyone there knew they would be treated to a great send-off performance. No one was disappointed.

Romeo and Juliet is a much loved classic, but in addition, for this show, the dancers are dancing to the choreography of Alun Jones, former Director of the company. Mr. Jones was an excellent choreographer who always created pieces that played to the strengths of the company and he was an artist who had a complete vision for the whole production. There is clear evidence of that ability in this ballet. The attention to detail is phenomenal, yet the production’s pacing is never compromised.

The opening scenes of the ballet are full of the bustle of the busy city square and immediately reveal the tension between the rival families. Conflict erupts and a well-executed sword fight reminds us that this is a love story but also a story of the consequences of division and hate. Innocent bystanders pay the price. But at other times the square is full of people enjoying the city life, jugglers and acrobats entertain and children dance and chase one another.

Jones offers such moments of unexpected fun to this tragic love story which reminds us of the tender age of his star-crossed lovers. In Act III, when Romeo and Juliet awaken after spending their wedding night together, Juliet is in a bit of a panic to get him out of her room before they are discovered. Their pas de deux vacillates between newly discovered passion and the child-like buoyancy of first love. It tells this part of the story with sensitivity and understanding. Ms Ashikhmina and Mr. Krieger dance perfectly, the more experienced Romeo wanting to keep the flames burning in Juliet, and she exploding into moments of bubbling, childlike joy. Jones was a master of choreographing small, tender gestures in this pas de deux he captures their vulnerability and it will soon be their undoing. It is a wonderful passage in the story, the only scene where they are afforded time to simply revel in their new love.  

Several of the former dancers acted as coaches in preparation for the ballet. Dale Bannon and Helen Starr have been on hand to lend their experience with this piece. To their credit, I felt they had used a light hand helping communicate what they had learned performing the roles but had allowed the dancers to bring their own emotions and responses to the work

Leonardo da Vinci “ Perspective Study for the Adoration of the Magi”

One last note about the production, there is a rich texture to this ballet. The costumes are full of color and pattern and are rich with brocades, lace, and trims in a way no one can do anymore because the materials are no longer available. The audience truly is transported to Verona of another time. Jones’ set is also of special interest as it echoes a conte crayon sketch by Leonardo da Vinci “ Perspective Study for the Adoration of the Magi” from 1480. Although the multilevel set is classical and architectural in design, it proves to be versatile in its ability to create different spaces of different sizes for the story to unfold. Set changes are effective and fast. 

In conclusion, this is a wonderful production because it is complete in the truest sense of the word. The work was fully practiced and everyone performed beautifully. In a large production, such as this piece, that is saying a lot. Dancers, actors, street performers, and children fill the scenes with lively activity and it is easy for all this to spin out of control. It never does in this piece. This was a labor of love and it shows. Congratulations to the Louisville Ballet and many thanks to Natalia Ashikhmina for eighteen years of beautiful performances,

Romeo and Juliet

March 1-2, 2024

Louisville Ballet
Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
500 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202

Samantha Morrison is a special contributor to She is an artist, writer, and curator with over twenty years of experience in the visual and performing arts in the Midwest and Kentucky.