SALT LAKE CITY — As Ballet West prepares to unveil “Romeo and Juliet” at the Capitol Theatre over Valentine's Day weekend, it will be drawing on a love story of its own. Set to Sergei Prokofiev's opulent score with John Cranko’s celebrated choreography, the Shakespearean tale of star-crossed lovers may best be told by those for whom sparks truly fly.
Real-life couple Chase O’Connell and Beckanne Sisk, who will be dancing as Romeo and Juliet opening night, began their romance in the most unusual of circumstances. With cameras rolling and before millions of viewers, the couple’s bashfully budding romance became a major focus of a reality TV series.
The CW network’s “Breaking Pointe,” which debuted in 2012, showed rising starlet Sisk curiously gazing at newcomer O’Connell at the barre or across the room, documenting their early conversations, masked desire and dizzying excitement.
Still together three years later, Sisk and O’Connell are tapping into those feelings of “new love” despite the familiarity and comfort that come with time. Fortunately, even their years of courtship don’t seem to have diluted the chemistry that will serve them well in the lead roles for three performances of the show's run Feb. 12-20.
“We do everything together, literally everything,” O’Connell said with a laugh. “Romeo and Juliet” is their first romance-based pairing at Ballet West, although they’ve partnered together a few other times for contemporary works.
O’Connell remembers the first time he met Sisk. As a new member of the company, he said, he “knew his place.” Even during warmups at the barre that first morning, there was an unmistakable pecking order.
O’Connell explained that barre spaces are earned, with the highest-ranking dancers given first dibs. Those who’ve left the company leave their space behind, and new dancers quietly learn to find and fill them, being careful to avoid an occupied spot. It’s not uncommon to see new dancers hang back during the start of warmups on the first day so they don’t ruffle any feathers.
However, O’Connell, who’d recently been invited to join the company in 2012, had done his homework. He knew that Sisk’s best friend had recently left Ballet West, meaning the barre space next to Sisk lay open — and he was all too eager to fill it.
The rest is history — filmed and documented history. A whirlwind romance soon followed, and within a few months, the two were inseparable.
“I love her personality, her sense of humor, how easygoing she is,” O’Connell said of Sisk.
Sisk seems over the moon as well.
“I love how smart he is,” she said. “He’s funny and witty, caring, and passionate about what he does. He even helps me feel more passionate about what I do. Even when we fight, we fight the same. It seems like we’re almost the same person.”
But with being together so much, especially right now with their matching rehearsal schedules, Sisk and O’Connell have created ground rules.
“We try to treat each other like any other partner when we’re working,” O’Connell said. “We try to be professional and keep the expectations of them the same we would anyone else.”
“We try to leave it in the studio when we leave,” Sisk added. “We don’t like to take work home.”
But when the choreography’s learned and the ballet’s set, the two hope their passion will be evident on the stage. The challenge is in channeling the various phases of love instead of jumping right into their familiar affection.
“It’s been really nice for us, really fun,” O’Connell said, adding that dancing as the famous lovers has increased their own love. “It’s been really good for our relationship.”
“It’s been rejuvenating,” Sisk said. “We have to look at each other with fresh eyes just like at the beginning.”
O’Connell says the first time the characters’ eyes meet in the ballet is a pivotal moment.
“It gives me goose bumps,” he said. “It makes remember the first time our eyes met.”
“Ooh, I love that part,” Sisk agreed. “I get that old twitterpated feeling.”
O’Connell also loves a scene where Romeo watches Juliet dance for the first time.
“It takes me back to the first time I watched Beckanne dance,” O’Connell said, shaking his head and smiling. “She’s so beautiful to watch when she dances.”
If you go
What: Ballet West’s “Romeo and Juliet”
When: Feb. 12-20
Where: Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South
How much: $19-$107
Masquerade Party: Patrons will have the opportunity for an exclusive sneak peek of "Romeo and Juliet" during the final dress rehearsal on Thursday, Feb. 11, when Ballet West hosts a unique Masquerade Party. More information is available at balletwest.org/events/masquerade-party.