The Romeo and Juliet Ballet

2010 production of Romeo and Juliet ballet at the Royal Swedish Opera

Carl Thorborg Kungliga Operan/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0


Romeo and Juliet is a ballet by Sergei Prokofiev based on Shakespeare's tragic love story. It is one of the most popular renditions of the production. Prokofiev composed the music in 1935 or 1936 for the Kirov Ballet. The incredible ballet score has inspired many great choreographers to try their hand at Shakespeare's story. 

Plot Summary

The ballet begins with feuding between the Capulets and the Montagues. Wearing a disguise, Romeo Montague crashes a party at the Capulet house, where he meets Juliet Capulet. He instantly falls in love with her. The two secretly proclaim their eternal love for each other on the balcony.

Hoping to finally put an end to the family feud, Friar Laurence secretly marries the couple. But the feuding continues when Juliet's cousin, Tybalt, kills Romeo's friend Mercutio, during a fight. A distraught Romeo kills Tybalt in a fit of revenge and is sent into exile.

Juliet turns to Friar Laurence for help, so he devises a plan to help her. Juliet is to drink a sleeping potion to make her appear dead. Her family will then bury her. Friar Laurence will then tell Romeo the truth; he will rescue her from her tomb and take her away, where they will live together happily ever after.

That night, Juliet drinks the potion. When her distraught family finds her dead the next morning, they proceed to bury her. The news of Juliet's death reaches Romeo, and he returns home desperately grieving because he has lost her. (But he never received the message from Friar Laurence.) Believing that Juliet is really dead, he drinks a poison. When Juliet awakens, she sees that Romeo is dead and stabs herself. Essentially, it's a double suicide.

Interesting Facts

In 1785, the first ballet that was based on Shakespeare's tale, Giulietta e Romeo, was performed with the music of Luigi Marescalchi. Eusebio Luzzi choreographed the five-act ballet at the Théâtre Samuele in Venice, Italy. 

Many people believe that Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet is the greatest ballet score ever written. The ballet consists of four acts and 10 scenes, with a total of 52 separate dance numbers. The version most well-known today was first presented in 1940 at the Kirov Theater in Leningrad, with choreography by Leonid Lavrovsky. There have been several revivals of the production since its debut.

Performed at The Metropolitan Opera in New York City, Kenneth MacMillan's interpretation of Romeo has become a signature production that is also presented in other theaters throughout the world. Various theaters offer different versions or revival editions of the ballet that have emerged throughout the years.