'It's about passion. It's about commitment, and tolerance.' - André Lewis

We all know the story. We've either read Shakespeare's play, or seen a movie version.

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet is presenting Romeo and Juliet this Valentine's Day week.

André Lewis is the Artistic Director of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. He performed in the debut performance of Romeo and Juliet in Winnipeg in 1981.

As well, he has a personal connection to the work. In fact, he is considered to be an international expert in this version of the ballet.

Romeo and Juliet

André Lewis as Romeo with Teresa Bacall as Juliet. (Courtesy of Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet)

When he was a young dancer, Lewis was given the role of both Romeo and Mercutio. It was the ballet's choregrapher Rudy van Dantzig of the Dutch National Ballet that entrusted Lewis in the role.

Since that time, Lewis and van Dantzig worked together on presenting it a number of times.

Van Dantzig died in 2012. But Lewis has continued to bring it to the stage. "I try to replicate what Rudy told me through the images he used when he coached the dancers," he explained. "At one point in the ballet Juliet takes the potion and she reaches for Romeo. At that moment, Rudy said 'it's like a candle being blown out.'

Romeo and Juliet

Tara Birtwhistle in role of Juliet with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, in past years. (Courtesy of Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet)

As a current RWB Ballet Master, Tara Birtwhistle coaches the Royal Winnipeg Ballet dancers to perfect their role as Juliet.

According to Jane Puchniak, RWB Public Relations Coordinator,  the role of Juliet is seen as a rite of passage for many female ballet dancers.

"There is also a lot of excitement surrounding Birtwhistle's return to the stage in the character role of Lady Capulet in the 2014 production."

André Lewis considers Romeo and Juliet to be a universal story that's worth seeing, again and again. "It's about someone willing to kill themselves for love. It's about passion. It's about commitment, and tolerance."

Lewis wonders "Why would two families feud for no good reason, except when a tension has existed forever?"

"It also teaches us about letting go of the past and moving forward," he said.

According to Lewis, if someone has never been to the ballet, this is the one to see. "It's easy to follow, with beautiful lighting. And if you have seen it many times there's always something new to experience."

Lewis has one final piece of advice: "Bring kleenex!"

Romeo and Juliet opens on Wednesday February 12 and continues until Sunday. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. at the Centennial Concert Hall each night, with a 2:00 Sunday matinee on Sunday. Before then, hear RWB Artistic Director André Lewis on Up to Speed with host Ismaila Alfa at 3:00 p.m.