"Romeo and Juliet" was the overwhelming winner of a Ballet West survey last year to determine audience favorites. Accordingly, it will be presented in response to popular demand, at the Capitol Theatre April 5-13.
With exciting choreography by award-winning Michael Smuin, the three-act ballet will have nine performances, including an added Sunday matinee: April 5, 6, 10-13 at 7:30 p.m., and matinees April 6, 7 and 13 at 2 p.m. David Van Alstyne will conduct the Utah Symphony in one of Prokofiev's finest scores, which has come to be almost synonymous with balletic settings of Shakespeare's romantic tragedy. Costumes and sets were designed by William Pitkin.For the third time this season, beginning with "The Nutcracker" in December, and continuing with "Sleeping Beauty," Ballet West has had such heavy demand for tickets that it's added a matinee. "We are thrilled with this year's record-breaking audience attendance," said Cindy Elliot, Ballet West director of marketing and public relations. She attributes much of the success to a newly expanded subscriber base that has largely resulted from the company's new telemarketing campaign.
Smuin's version of "Romeo and Juliet" is notable for its hot-blooded emotions and conflicts, and for an excess of swordplay, which breaks out in reckless street games, heedless of life and limb.
The fight scenes were originally staged for Ballet West by Steven White, but Bruce Caldwell has the assignment of reviving them this season, and tuning them to concert pitch. Caldwell, long a principal dancer with the company, is now on the artistic staff.
He is something of an expert on other "Romeo and Juliets," having seen those of London's Royal Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, the Bolshoi, and Choo San Goh's with Washington Ballet. "None of them have swordplay on anything like the scale of Smuin's creation, and no one else uses women fencers," he said.
"Steven White drove us to total precision when he worked with us, and those who originally learned the fight scenes from him have a good understanding of what's involved. It's the new people I worry about. We have one new man in rather heavy fighting, and he only has 10 days to learn it.
"When swordplay breaks out in the first act, 24 people are involved. Then there is a big fuss in the duel scene where Tybalt kills Mercutio and Romeo responds by killing Tybalt. Incidentally, the fights leave you exhausted, especially Romeo, who has just been lifting Juliet."
Though the fencing foils have blunt ends and the edges are not sharp, they are nonetheless dangerous, said Caldwell, who admits that his assignment has given him a few gray hairs.
"In the interests of safety, the epees (blades) are lighter than usual, and the bowls that protect the hands are like those of a saber," he explained. "There's no problem with timidity among Ballet West dancers. They are brave to a fault, and I worry that they might go ahead beyond their capabilities."
So far there have been no fencing accidents, unless you count the chip that flew from a broadsword and landed in a dancer's eye, necessitating a trip to the emergency room.
The broadswords, which in a way symbolize the folly and even ridiculousness of the feud between Capulet and Montague, are exaggerated in size.
"There were no such weapons in 15th century Verona," said Caldwell. "If they were made of steel, they would be impossibly heavy. We had them specially made of aircraft aluminum in New Jersey.
"The fight between Capulet and Montague requires a lot of energy; when you clang the broadswords together your whole body reverberates." This Caldwell knows from personal experience. As in the past, he will alternate in the roles of Lord Capulet and the hot-tempered Tybalt.
Leading the cast in Friday's opening night performance will be Erin Leedom and Raymond Van Mason as the ill-fated lovers. Other leading couples will be Wendee Fiedeldey with Richard Bradley, and Jane Wood with Robert Arbogast. Tickets ranging from $8-$30 are available at the Ballet West box office, 50 W. 200 South, Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. For charge card sales, call 363-9318.
Ballet West will take "Romeo and Juliet" to the Browning Center for the Performing Arts, Weber State University in Ogden on April 16 and 17 at 7:30 p.m. The company has also scheduled three student performances of the first act only, free to participating schools, at the Capitol Theatre on April 9 and 10.
The Ballet West Guild invites the public to a symposium on "Romeo and Juliet," in the Capitol Theatre balcony on Wednesday, April 3 at 6 p.m. Artistic director John Hart will discuss the production, after which a dress rehearsal of Act I will be open, and refreshments will be served. A donation of $1 is suggested for adults and children, students free.