Never was a story of more woe

Photo by Réjean Brandt

The star-crossed lovers return to Winnipeg Feb. 12-16, as the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s (RWB) production of Romeo + Juliet gets underway. Choreographed by Rudi van Dantzig and set to a score by Sergei Prokofiev, this incarnation of the Shakespearean tragedy is sure to appeal to both neophytes and seasoned RWB-goers alike.

“It’s such a fantastic score for this work,” says André Lewis, RWB artistic director, of Prokofiev’s music. “It speaks to the rawness of the power of those families and to the purity and gentleness of the two protagonists and their love for each other. It’s so beautifully composed.”

Dantzig’s reimagining of Romeo + Juliet was rendered in the 60s during his time with the Dutch national ballet. In the 80s, he was invited to stage the classic ballet with the RWB.

“What brings this version of [Romeo + Juliet] to the level that very few versions have met is the quality of choreography. [Dantzig] really put himself into the characters’ mindset,” says Lewis.

“Rather than put steps together and then ask dancers to emote to those steps, he first thought of the emotions, and found steps and choreography that would portray those emotions, or the dilemma that Juliet faces, or that Romeo faces, or the anger that Tybalt has, and his meanness and things of that nature.”

Lewis has been with the RWB since 1975, when he performed in the company’s debut performance of Romeo + Juliet as Mercutio, and later on as Romeo. Over time Lewis and Dantzig developed a strong working relationship; Lewis learned how to represent Dantzig’s vision of the classic ballet true to form, which resulted in Lewis working around the world with companies like the Hong Kong Ballet, the National Ballet of Athens, Maggio Danza (Italy), and Ballet de Marseilles (France).

“[Dantzig] called me and asked me if I would be interested in staging his work. ‘Kind of out of the blue… I didn’t really know him that well, but we’d enjoyed working together and he found me to be keeping with the style and type of work he wanted me to do as Mercutio and Romeo,” says Lewis.

This year’s production has three pairs of dancers cast in the lead roles of Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet. Depending on the night, audiences will be treated to any one combination of the following pairings: Liang Xing and Amanda Green; Dmitri Dovgoselets and Elizabeth Lamont; or Artjom Maksakov and Sophia Lee.

For those that have never attended the ballet, Lewis emphasizes that the timelessness and universally resonant tale of Romeo + Juliet makes it one of the most accessible productions for the unitiated.

“It’s a good one to start off. Bring a significant other, friend or family member.”

Catch the RWB’s Romeo + Juliet between Feb. 12-16, with a students’ matinee special on the 16th.