‘Romeo + Juliet,’ a women’s perspective

Romeo + Juliet
Krieger and Albrechta in practice. | Photo by Sam English

One thing is not like the other: William Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet,” written in the 1590s and The Louisville Ballet’s performances of “Romeo + Juliet” on Sept. 7 and 8.

And that’s OK.

There are many variations of this story of doomed teenage lovers, especially in films, with some working better than others. The 1936 movie had the 34-year-old Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard (over 40!) as the titular characters. The crime family/mafia version 60 years later showcased Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes (at least they were closer to the correct ages).

After hearing choreographer Adam Hougland discuss his retelling of the story, this modernized take on the romantic tragedy will be a welcome addition to the canon.

The world premiere of his ballet “Romeo + Juliet” will be performed as the opening of the Louisville Ballet’s “Season of Romance.” It will also be the first production in the newly reopened The Kentucky Center after its June 13 fire. 

“In a world that is becoming increasingly polarized,” said Hougland, one of the Louisville Ballet’s resident choreographers, “I cannot think of a more relevant piece than ‘Romeo + Juliet.’ Two feuding families whose children end up paying the ultimate price could be a headline from today’s paper.”

Romeo will be danced by Mark Krieger and Juliet is Leigh Anne Albrechta. Trad Burns is the scenic and lighting designer with costume designs by Christian Squires. The Louisville Orchestra will play the classic musical score by Sergei Prokofiev during the performances. 

The Louisville Ballet’s Artistic and Executive Director Robert Curran describes Hougland’s ballet as “quirky. It has a female perspective. It was a massive undertaking, with two-and-a-half years of planning.” This is the fifth time Hougland has worked with the Louisville Ballet, with his ballets performed at least once a season.

This women-centric ballet, with women in parts that were written for men (Lady Capulet is now the leader of the family), is described by Hougland as “more balanced. Women have more power.” 

The time period is purposely murky. Is it during the Renaissance, today or in the future? The sets resemble Renaissance architecture, but are constructed in gray and silver, with any coloring coming from the lighting. The costumes look of the period, but are made out of contemporary, high tech fabrics. 

“I like stories we’re familiar with and retelling them,” Hougland said. “’Romeo + Juliet’ is more edgy, rough around the edges, sexier, more risky. This one is for the bucket list, for sure. The creation was really stressful, but preparation time is key. The emotion is so real, this unnecessary feuding, all about this innocent love. And the music – I couldn’t resist.” 

The Romeo + Juliet Gala is Saturday, Sept. 8 at 5:30 p.m. at the Omni Louisville Hotel. This is the Louisville Ballet’s annual fundraiser; the $350 ticket includes cocktails, a seated dinner and a premium ticket to a performance. •

Louisville Ballet’s ‘Romeo + Juliet’ Friday, Sept. 7–8 The Kentucky Center 501 W. Main St. louisvilleballet.org $38-$117 Times vary