Jeraldine Mendoza and Dylan Gutierrez in Romeo and Juliet Credit: Cheryl Mann

It didn’t take long for Joffrey dancer Jeraldine Mendoza to make an impression on fellow company member Dylan Gutierrez. During one of their first rehearsals together, Mendoza approached her now-beau with some choice words.

“He was wearing a shirt that had Notorious B.I.G. on it,” Mendoza recalls.

“I just went up to him and recited the lyrics [from “Juicy”]: ‘It was all a dream . . . ’”

“She even did an impression of a Notorious B.I.G. voice,” Gutierrez says.

“I was just like, ‘Ugh, crap, she’s so great!’”

The couple’s real-life romance, five years strong, is a boon as they again prepare to take on the title roles in Krzysztof Pastor’s Romeo and Juliet, which arguably demands more acting from its dancers than any version of the ballet before it. In Pastor’s politically motivated libretto, Shakespeare’s love-struck couple crisscrosses between three eras of Italian history, spanning from the rise of fascism in the 1930s through the corrupt administration of Silvio Berlusconi in the 1990s. The pageantry and the pantomime are gone, Gutierrez says—it’s “a little more bare and not as grandiose as a classical version would be.”

Gutierrez and Mendoza also performed Pastor’s Romeo and Juliet when the Joffrey staged it in 2014 (it’s been revived this year as part of Shakespeare 400 Chicago). All the same, they recently took a night to “nerd out” by watching Romeo + Juliet, Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes—Pastor himself refers dancers to it for inspiration. But rather than taking cues from actors, Mendoza finds that what works best for her is to pull from what she knows.

“What’s easy partnering with Dylan is that I can reference our own relationship,” Mendoza says. “I think about our first meeting and how jittery I was. I had butterflies. There’s so much more depth.” 

Romeo and Juliet 10/13-10/23: Thu-Fri 7:30 PM, Sat 2 and 7:30 PM, Sun 2 PM, Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress, 800-982-2787,, $34-$159.

Correction: The image running with this post has been updated to correct an apparent misidentification.