In the past two years, Festival Ballet Providence has commissioned several original ballets ó The Widowís Broom, Scheherazade, and Carmen among them ó which have been enthusiastically received by audiences. Following on that success, artistic director Misha Djuric reached for a familiar story, Romeo and Juliet, with familiar music, by Sergei Prokofiev, but he asked California-based choreographer Yves de Bouteiller to create a new ballet for the Providence company. It will open Festival Balletís 28th season October 21-23 at the VMA Arts & Cultural Center.
"I wanted to fit the size of the company and the quality of the dancers at Festival," explained Djuric in a recent phone conversation. "Why buy something secondhand when you can buy it specially tailored for you?"
Djuric emphasized that original choreography is another way to make a piece special, instead of learning someone elseís choreography from 40 or 50 years ago. Many ballet fans may have seen the filmed version of the Bolshoi Ballet doing the choreography of Leonid Lavrovsky in the late í40s, or they may have caught Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev in the Royal Ballet incarnation by Kenneth MacMillan in the late í60s.
"Every period in time has their own specific tastes and fashions," Djuric reflected. "In this time, people want something fresh and new, and we wanted to minimize all those acting/miming things. I wanted something very energetic and dynamic and very interesting. I didnít want the attention to be slowed down by long scenes."
Thus he and de Bouteiller have condensed some of Prokofievís score (first performed in 1938) to keep the production down to two hours and to tell the story of the star-crossed young lovers with as few interludes as possible, keeping the focus on the main characters. They have paired two younger, newer company members (Heather OíHalloran and Ty Parmenter) with two more experienced dancers (Gleb Lyamenkoff and Leticia Guerrero, respectively) in the lead roles
"I saw that each of the four had their own personality as dancers," noted de Bouteiller, also speaking in a recent phone conversation. "I saw that they could give something to these roles the way they were paired that could create a chemistry. And Iím not demanding that they be the same Juliet ó they have the liberty to interpret what theyíre feeling with the role."
However, de Bouteiller does have his own firm ideas about Julietís character. Contrary to many interpretations of her as a naïve and passive child, he sees her as a strong young woman who asserts herself against her familyís notion of whom she should marry and has the courage to go through with the Friarís plan of drinking the poison.
As for Romeo, de Bouteiller sees him as a "dreamer, a loner, poetic, but at the same time, he has that strength in him too." When Romeoís best friend dies, he challenges Tybalt to a duel and kills him, and he comes back to Verona despite his banishment to find out what happened to Juliet. De Bouteiller hadnít yet put together the choreography for Lady Capulet when we spoke, but he envisions her as such a broken woman after Tybaltís death that she has almost no tears left when her daughter dies.
And how is this all conveyed through movement? In some versions of the ballet, there has been quite a bit of stylized miming at key dramatic moments, and de Bouteiller admits that there are key moments where itís essential and sometimes faster to use mime. But he has tried to let most of the story unfold through intricate partnering and evocative steps.
Two decisions made collaboratively by Djuric and de Bouteiller were to have all of the female dancers on pointe (even the corps de ballet) and to have at least one key sword fight (with fightmaster Alex Ripa as adviser) in each of the three acts. The pointe decision kept a more classical line and the sword fights took advantage of the athleticism of Festivalís dancers.
"We are using real swords with a lot of theatrical blood ó thereís a lot of dead people," observed Djuric, his tone characteristically tongue-in-cheek. "Itís classical with a fresh look."
De Bouteiller mentioned that even the tarantella in the Carnival scene and the formal ball at the Capulets are danced on point.
"Iím looking for the energy of the dancers working together to lend each scene a different energy," said de Bouteiller.
And with modern sets designed by Alan Pickart and Renaissance-inspired costumes by Ka Yan Kan, Djuric feels fortunate to "work with young, energetic, inspirational artists.
"Iíve very excited, optimistic, and afraid," he admitted, with a laugh.
Issue Date: October 14 - 20, 2005
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