The Timeless Romance of Romeo & Juliet

“It’s a human story, so that has to come across. It’s not an abstract, make-believe story or fairy tale—this could be today, anywhere.”  
- Helgi Tomasson 

Passionate dancing, spine-tingling swordsmanship, and stunning set and costume designs bring Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers brilliantly to life. The ballet transports you from the streets of Renaissance Verona to the grandeur of the Capulet’s ballroom, and from the strife of warring families to the flush of first love and its tragic end. Rapturously sensual and deeply moving, Romeo & Juliet offers a profound emotional experience. 

Ballet versions of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet first appeared onstage in the late 1700s in Italy. In the early 1800s, the ballet was done in Russia and Denmark. Over the decades, many other productions have been created and performed across the globe, with the best-known productions set to the 1935 full-length score by Sergei Prokofiev.  

In 1938, Willam Christensen, then ballet master of San Francisco Opera Ballet, the original incarnation of SF Ballet, choreographed the Company’s first production of Romeo and Juliet. Set to Tchaikovsky’s score, Willam danced the title character alongside Janet Reed. In 1976, SF Ballet premiered a new production choreographed by previous Artistic Director Michael Smuin, set to Prokofiev’s score. At the time, SF Ballet was the only major ballet company performing a full-length Romeo and Juliet in America. In 1978, Smuin’s Romeo and Juliet was televised as part of the PBS series Great Performances: Dance in America. 

SF Ballet’s third and current production was created by former Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson in 1994. Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet is one of SF Ballet’s most popular and widely toured ballets and has been seen by more than 200,000 audience members since it premiered in 1994. Tomasson’s interpretation was filmed in front of a live audience at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House in 2015 as part of Lincoln Center at the Movies: Great American Dance, with a production that “lifts Shakespeare’s complex and familiar language off the gilded pages and translates it into lucid classical choreography that is visceral, fresh, and ultimately sublime” (Huffington Post). 



Romeo and Juliet 

Choreographer: Willam Christensen 

Composer: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky 

Stage Settings: Charlotte Rider 

Costumes: Helen Green 

World Premiere: 1938— San Francisco Opera Ballet, War Memorial Opera House; San Francisco, California 


Romeo and Juliet 

Choreographer: Michael Smuin 

Composer: Sergei Prokofiev 

Scenery and Costume Design: William Pitkin  

Lighting Design (1976): Jennifer Tipton 

Lighting Design (1978, designed after the original 1976 design): Sara Linnie Slocum  

Costumes: Executed by “Grace” 

Fencing: Michael Smuin and J. Steven White 

World Premiere: January 27, 1976 — San Francisco Ballet, War Memorial Opera House; San Francisco, California 


Romeo & Juliet 

Choreographer: Helgi Tomasson 

Composer: Sergei Prokofiev 

Scenery and Costume Design: Jens-Jacob Worsaae 

Lighting Design: Thomas R. Skelton 

Fight Scene Choreography: Martino Pistone in collaboration with Helgi Tomasson 

World Premiere: March 8, 1994 — San Francisco Ballet, War Memorial Opera House; San Francisco, California

For additional images from Tomasson's Romeo & Juliet, visit Helgi Tomasson: 35 Years of Artistry/Romeo & Juliet 

File preparation for this exhibit by SF Ballet Digital Asset Administrator, Rachel Bauer. Exhibit text and design by SF Ballet Department of Education and SF Ballet Archivist at MP+D.

The Timeless Romance of Romeo & Juliet