It’s a classic story with box-office draw. But the Joffrey Ballet’s new Romeo and Juliet, opening April 30, is anything but traditional. Set to Sergei Prokofiev’s thundering, romantic score, this production unfolds in 20th-century Italy, where modern themes such as the rise of fascism and political terrorism swirl around the two lovers.

Krzysztof Pastor, artistic director of the Polish National Ballet, is the brains behind the sultry period piece. Pastor has said that this politicized version, created for the Scottish Ballet in 2008, was inspired by the story of a Serb-Muslim couple shot dead in Sarajevo as they tried to escape the city during the Bosnian war. “Romeo and Juliet is timeless,” says Pastor. “Romeos and Juliets lived and died in the time of Shakespeare. [They] live and die now and will live and die in the future.”

As for casting the two lovers, Ashley Wheater, the Joffrey’s artistic director, says chemistry drove the selection of two rising stars, Christine Rocas and Rory Hohenstein. “The simple idea of not being able to be with the person you love is tragic,” says Hohenstein, who finds it “easy” to act smitten with his costar. “It’s hard to sit in the audience and not feel connected.”

Go: Romeo and Juliet runs through May 11 at the Auditorium Theatre
(50 E. Congress Pkwy). For info,