The ballet was composed in 1935 and 1936 as commissioned by the Kirov Ballet, with a happy ending, but was never publicly mounted, partly due to increased fear and caution in the musical and theatrical community in the aftermath of the two notorious Pravda editorials criticizing Shostakovich and other degenerate modernists. Prokofiev’s efforts resulted in suites from the music being heard in Moscow and the United States, but the produced ballet actually premiered in Brno, Czechoslovakia, on 30 December 1938. It is better known from the significantly revised version that was first presented at the Kirov in Leningrad on 11 January 1940, with choreography by Leonid Lavrovsky, to which Prokofiev objected.
In 1962 John Cranko’s choreography of Romeo and Juliet for the Stuttgart Ballet helped the company achieve a worldwide reputation; it had its American premiere in 1969.
Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet presented the first American production in the 1984-1985 season, including guest performances in New York City at the New York State Theater and in Washington, D.C.
In 1965 a production that was choreographed by Sir Kenneth MacMillan for the Royal Ballet premiered at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in which Rudolph Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn brought new life to the characters, and Fonteyn, considered to be near retirement, embarked upon a rejuvenated career. Peter Martins made Romeo + Juliet on New York City Ballet to the Prokofiev music in 2007.
In July 2008, with the blessing of the Prokofiev family and permission from the Russian State Archive, the original Prokofiev score will finally have its world premiere, as the composer intended. Mark Morris has been chosen to direct the production and the Mark Morris Dance Group will premiere it at the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College. The production will then tour the world for two years.