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Originally published January 27, 2013 at 5:20 AM | Page modified January 27, 2013 at 2:32 PM

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‘Roméo et Juliette’: New look for an old story

Costume designer Jérôme Kaplan is reoutfitting Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Shakespearean tragedy for Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Seattle Times movie critic

Dance preview

‘Roméo et Juliette’

7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and Feb. 7-9, 2 p.m. Saturday and Feb. 9, 1 p.m. Sunday and Feb. 10, Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $28-$183 (206-441-2424 or www.pnb.org).

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“Style is an alphabet of time,” says costume designer Jérôme Kaplan. He’s speaking of his costumes for Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of “Roméo and Juliette,” choreographed by Jean-Christophe Maillot. Though the story is from Shakespeare, its design — and its emotions — hold to no specific period. “It’s in the past, but maybe in the future,” says Kaplan, of his concept for the costumes. “It is timeless, no?”

Kaplan, a Frenchman who’s worked frequently with Maillot for more than 20 years, originally designed the “Roméo et Juliette” costumes for the ballet’s 1996 premiere with Maillot’s company, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo. For PNB’s first two productions of the ballet, in 2008 and 2009, the company borrowed the original costumes from Monte Carlo. Now, with a third production of “Roméo et Juliette” approaching (opening Friday, running through Feb. 10), PNB’s costume department has undertaken the monumental task of re-creating the 53 different costumes (plus many duplicates) for the ballet, so as to have an in-house set that can potentially be rented out to other companies.

This presented an opportunity for Kaplan to adjust the designs just a bit. Though audiences may not notice a difference, he said that he has made numerous small changes, using what he’s learned in the 15 years since his original designs: “Everything is more suitable, more close to the body — more danceable, more light.”

In a walk through the PNB costume shop last month, Kaplan explained some of the many influences for the look of this “Roméo et Juliette.” Juliette’s dress, worn to the party where she meets Roméo, is gold — both because “she is the precious thing in the family,” and because of the Shakespeare line that compares Juliette to the sun. It’s made from a metallic fabric that seems to create its own light onstage; a simple, strapless empire-waist gown. (Well, it gives the illusion of being strapless, but isn’t; there’s stretchy flesh-toned elastic over the shoulders. “We need to do that, to make it safe,” said Kaplan of the straps. “I don’t like them.” ) Later, she wears another gold dress, this one inspired by 1920s designs by Vionnet and Chanel, bias-cut and close to the body.

Other early 20th-century influences can be spotted. Echoes of the designer Paul Poiret can be seen, in a dramatically draped cloak worn by Rosaline and an elegant dress for Lady Capulet. Imitations of the intricately pleated silk that was a trademark of Mariano Fortuny turn up in several costumes, including Juliette’s simple gray “balcony scene” dress. (That dress actually is silk, though most of the costumes are made from synthetic fabrics, Kaplan said, for durability.) Kaplan notes that the ’20s and ’30s references are also a nod to composer Sergei Prokofiev, who wrote the luscious “Romeo and Juliet” score in 1935.

There’s a samurai touch to some of the men’s costumes, particularly Tybalt’s “chain mail” (actually crochet) tunic, and a Japanese influence to the Nurse’s kimono sleeves. The men’s tights, says Kaplan, indicate the Middle Ages; some of the party guests’ draped robes have a Grecian influence.

It’s all “a big salad of different references,” as Kaplan describes it; a flowing mélange of costumes that can’t quite be pinned down to a specific era. Neither strictly Renaissance (“it’s beautiful, but less touchable for the audience”) or truly modern (contemporary designs, Kaplan said, can quickly go out of fashion), this “Roméo et Juliette” exists in its own time — a tragic love story, beautifully clothed.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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