For its third performance this season, Ballet Victoria, under the artistic direction of Paul Destrooper, presented Sergei Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Originally created in January 1940 by the Kirov Ballet (Mariinsky) in St. Petersburg and performed at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 1946 with Galina Ulanova in the lead role, the ballet became immensely popular with audiences around the world after the Bolshoi toured in Britain and the U.S. in 1956 and 1959. In 1965, Sir Kenneth MacMillan choreographed it for the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, with Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev in the title roles. Subsequently, Nureyev created a new version in 1977. The ballet was first performed in Canada in 2011 by the National Ballet of Canada, choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky in Toronto.
On July 4, 2008, with the approval of the Prokofiev family and permission from the Russian State Archive, the original Prokofiev score was given its world premiere. Musicologist Simon Morrison, author of The People’s Artist: Prokofiev’s Soviet Years, unearthed the original materials in the Moscow archives, obtained permissions, and reconstructed the entire score. Mark Morris created the choreography for the production. The Mark Morris Dance Group premiered the work at the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College in New York state.
The performances of the whole company were very powerful and impressive. Prince George, BC native Matthew Cluff (Romeo) and Halifax-born Andrea Bayne (Juliet) convey both the youthfulness and depth of their characters with finesse and talent. Alternating between light comedic tone, playfulness, and serious dramatic and emotional depth when portraying grief and mourning, the dancers showed off their strong acting skills along with technical precision and graceful form.
Just as powerful were the performances of Victoria-native Bethany Le Corre (Lady Capulet) and Prince George born Jesse Gervais (Tybalt), whose presence on stage was captivating every time. Their pas de deux to the iconic segment “Dance of the Knights” is a tour de force and leaves the audience humming their theme song for the rest of the evening.
Also worth mentioning are the performances of the Ottawa-born Luke Thomson (Mercutio), Tokyo-native Risa Kobayashi (Mercutio’s friend), and Vancouver-native Georgia Semple (Nurse).
The sword fights were a great spectacle, skillfully choreographed by Paul Destrooper, who had danced the role of Tybalt with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, where he was accidentally wounded in a fencing scene. “I knew then and I know now that stage fighting is a craft that requires high concentration and mastery,” he said. “It is fast and it has to be precise but it also has to portray the passion of the characters, there is no room for a milquetoast in Romeo & Juliet.”
Ballet Victoria is currently touring with this ballet until April 1, 2016. Paul Destrooper was kind enough to take the time to answer my questions:
K.S.: What is it about Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” that moves you most? Do you remember the first time you heard the music or saw this ballet and what it felt like?
P.D.: I love how contemporary the score is. The overlapping melodies, the swells, the softness. It is a very dynamic and dramatic score. The phrasing and rhythms are also very interesting. I wish I had written that!
What were some of the challenges of putting on this famous ballet that was originally created in Soviet Russia? What were some surprising or unexpected things about producing it this season in Victoria?
Because the story is so well known and the score so epic, there was a lot of pressure for me to deliver something that would stand in direct comparison to current and older productions. I have so much respect for the work that I did stress the technique and the acting with the dancers. I also had only 6 weeks to create everything and it is BV’s longest full length ballet. Having only a cast of 12 dancers also created some interesting challenges. I was very proud of the dancers’ hard work and commitment to the work.
This ballet requires a lot of acting on the parts of the actors – from the fight (fencing) scenes, to the love scenes, and finally scenes filled with grief and mourning – were there scenes that were particularly challenging and particularly rewarding to develop and stage?
The acting was the biggest challenge. I pushed the dancers very hard and it went way beyond everyone’s comfort zone. There was definite drama in the studio during the creation.
What has been your favourite part to perform and dance over the course of your career? And why?
Rudi Van Danzig’s “Romeo & Juliet” was one of my favourite ballets to dance with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. I love the music and the passion of the story. In Alberta Ballet it was Val Caniparoli’s “Lady of the Camellia.” Both works have challenging choreography and so much room for dramatic interpretation. I love being a dancer and an actor. Both these works provide total physical and emotional exhaustion and a great sense of fulfilment at the end of the performance.
What is your dream ballet to produce?
“Romeo & Juliet” was one of them and I would like to do it again with Live music!
For the final ballet of this season, you chose another Prokofiev ballet “Cinderella” – what made you chose two Prokofiev pieces for this season? And how do you select your repertoire? What are some things you always have to take into account, and what are your personal preferences when making selections for the season?
Prokofiev is one of my favourite composers and I wanted to bring back “Cinderella.”
What can we look forward to for next year?
Next season will have more one act works and more mixed repertoire. I will bring back Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” as well well as the “Rite of Spring” and several shorter works with new choreography.
Photos by Gail and Dan Takahashi, Derek Ford, Barbara Burns, Louis Burton, Richard Webber, and Wendi Donaldson Laird.