British Columbia

Ballet B.C. brings Verona to Vancouver with new Romeo + Juliet

Combining an old musical score with new choreography, Ballet B.C. will have its world premier of their Romeo + Juliet production on Thursday, Feb. 22.

Specially commissioned choreography retells the classic tragedy

B.C. Ballet dancers Brandon Alley and Emily Chessa in Romeo + Juliet. (Cindi Wicklund)

A new take on the timeless tale of two star-crossed lovers from Verona, Italy, is coming to Vancouver's Queen Elizabeth Theatre this week.

The production called Romeo + Juliet is the premiere of a new choreography specially commissioned by Ballet B.C.

"This might sound very dramatic but I really believe Romeo and Juliet shaped my life," said Makaila Wallace, a long-time dancer with Ballet B.C. whose daughter's middle name is Juliet.

Wallace plays the role of Lady Capulet — the mother of Juliet, who is played by Emily Chessa. Romeo is played by Brandon Alley.

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The new choreography created by French dance artist Medhi Walerski is set to the much-loved score of Soviet-era composer Sergei Prokofiev. The ballet adaptation of William Shakespeare's late 16th century tragedy opens Thursday with dancers from Ballet B.C. and Granville Island's Arts Umbrella school. 

Ballet B.C. dancer Scott Fowler practices a scene in Romeo + Juliet. (Four Eyes Portraits)

Wallace first saw Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet as a teenager and the event had a deep impact on her.

"I literally cried for like four hours after the performance ended ... the music ... It just overwhelmed me," said Wallace.

Wallace said it's incredible how well the play, driven by character and dialogue, translates into a dance production — something she said Walerski has done masterfully with his new interpretation.

While developing the ballet early on, Walerski had the dancers pair off and perform theatrical exercises. He gave the dancers the task of improvising Romeo and Juliet's famous death scene from the end of the play. The experience was emotional for everyone involved.

"I was just crying," said Sylvain Senez who plays Juliet's father Lord Capulet.

"That music was so inspiring."

In 1938, Prokofiev's ballet adaptation of Romeo and Juliet first premiered in what is now the Czech Republic. The score he composed for the performance has been largely celebrated and utilized ever since.

"It's the music, the composition," said Walerski, when explaining his inspiration for his new choreography.

"Just what Prokofiev wrote, it's genius and it's so profound and it's so beautiful. It's something that really reaches your heart and soul, deeply."

Ballet B.C.'s production of Romeo + Juliet open Feb. 22, at 8:00 p.m.

With files from North by Northwest