Ballet and Romance

By Kalyn Oden, PR Intern

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Valentines Day may have passed but that does not mean love has. The world premiere of Stanton Welch’s Romeo and Juliet opens at Wortham Theater February 26th, 2015. Houston Ballet will be performing Romeo and Juliet runs from now until March 8, 2015.

Stanton Welch’s Romeo and Juliet; Artists of Houston Ballet; Photo by Amitava Sarkar
Stanton Welch’s Romeo and Juliet; Artists of Houston Ballet; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Let me introduce Principal Dancers Melody Mennite and Connor Walsh. They will be talking about their roles in Romeo and Juliet.

Does preparing for romantic roles differ than other roles?

Mennite: I don’t find it any different than other story driven roles really. Finding the motivations of whatever character I’m playing is the same no matter whom they are. But, in reality, most female protagonists in ballet are in love with someone at some point!

Walsh: Every role has its own characteristics but my preparation between story ballets doesn’t differ too much. There are some ballets where there’s much more focus on technique and musicality but a ballet like Romeo and Juliet majority of emphasis is put towards emotion and character development.

Is preparing for these difficult and how do you prepare for the acting?

Mennite: I take great care in character development. It’s one if my favorite things about full length ballets. It takes time and effort but is well worth it. Research, experimentation, evaluation, and practice.

Walsh: The only thing that makes preparing a romantic role easier for me is that you’re usually interacting with another dancer. I always enjoy partnering and find it much easier to find inspiration when working with some else. Before starting a new role I like to do lots of research before learning the choreography. Usually, reading the book or play, watching films based on the story and watching people’s interpretations in other ballet productions. Then once we start learning material I try not to reference these things too much so that I develop my own interpretation.

Do romantic roles come natural?

Mennite: Honestly, it depends on the chemistry between my partner and I. Every two people have a different dynamic together. Some partnerships lend themselves to easy chemistry and others take more time and development. By the time we get on stage, one way or another it will be natural. That’s why we put in all the hours we do.

Walsh: Every role is has its own challenges but what I enjoy about romantic roles is that we are all guilty of dreaming of great romance. It’s in us all somewhere and we as dancers get the joy of bringing those ideas and emotions out for the stage.

Stanton Welch’s Romeo and Juliet; Connor Walsh and Karina Gonzalez; Photo by Amitava Sarkar
Stanton Welch’s Romeo and Juliet; Connor Walsh and Karina Gonzalez; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

How is your chemistry with Romeo/Juliet?

Mennite: I like the role of Juliet. She’s young and energetic, and I like to think I get her because she’s Italian. My family is from southern Italy and, as most people know, Italians can be outspoken, super emotional, stubborn people. Juliet’s story reflects all of that and I enjoy playing her.

Walsh: I have the pleasure of dancing with the beautiful Karina Gonzalez who has an incredible combination of strength and delicacy. We’ve been working together a lot in the past few years which has really helped us develop our on stage chemistry. There is an element of trust and exploration that further develops with every ballet we work on together.

Have you danced Romeo and Juliet before this?

Mennite: I have. I got to do Juliet in Ben Stevenson’s version the last time we performed it. Connor Walsh was my Romeo.

Walsh: Yes. I performed various roles in Ben Stevenson’s production including Romeo and Mercutio.

If yes, how is this different than previous performances?

Mennite: Stanton likes to stay true to the original script. His production is classic in many ways. He always finds a way to develop a rich tapestry of characters to surround the main ones in big ballets and I think that is what will stand out in this production. Also, there are fun surprises in the innovative thinking of the sets. That’s all I can say without saying too much.

Walsh: Stanton’s version is unique in how closely he is following the play. We are of course using the Prokofiev score which forces him to make slight adaptations but his desire to stay true to as many elements as he can to Shakespeare’s words is admirable and will separate his from other productions.

When you read this play, did you see yourself as more of a Capulet or Montague?

Mennite: I would probably be a Montague. Just because that seems more like my roots.

Walsh: Montague of course.

Is there a different character you think you relate more too?

Mennite: I have a first cast character who is a ton of fun. Stanton developed her for me kind of. She’s Mercutio’s girlfriend and she is definitely my party girl side. I wouldn’t say I relate to her more than Juliet, but if I could choose any other part to play it would be her.

Walsh: I find that I relate to Romeo in the sense that he is a lover and not a fighter but I must admit that equally enjoy playing Mercutio. That’s most likely because his character is very different than my own which makes it so much fun to explore.

Stanton Welch’s Romeo and Juliet; Connor Walsh, Jared Matthews, and Artists of Houston Ballet; Photo by Amitava Sarkar
Stanton Welch’s Romeo and Juliet; Connor Walsh, Jared Matthews, and Artists of Houston Ballet; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

What are your favorite Romantic story, movie, play, and novel?

Mennite: Growing up, I loved Jane Austin novels. I still think Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite romantic stories. Of course Shakespeare has the romantic tragedies down. Most recently I saw the film “If I Stay” and thought it was a beautiful story too.

Walsh: La Bohème (opera), Annie Hall (movie), Giselle (ballet), You Send Me (Sam Cooke) Merry Widow (ballet).

What other Romantic Ballets have you performed?

Mennite: Onegin, Manon, Taming of the Shrew, Madame Butterfly, Swan Lake, Marie, La Bayadère, La Sylphide, Cinderella, Coppélia, and La Fille mal gardée.

Walsh: I’ve performed many different romantic ballets. One of my favorite romantic ballets is Giselle, which we recently performed in Detroit and will soon perform again in Houston. It’s both romantic and tragic like Romeo and Juliet and was created in the romantic period from the mid 19th century.

Stanton Welch’s Romeo and Juliet; Artists of Houston Ballet; Photo by Amitava Sarkar
Stanton Welch’s Romeo and Juliet; Artists of Houston Ballet; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

What would you like the audience to take away from this performance?

Mennite: Well it’s a tragedy, so obviously I want to make people cry. I do think that art, including our performing art, is meant to reach people on a very human level. I hope that I can take the audience with me on every step of the journey I take during the show. That’s a successful performance experience to me.

Walsh: I hope that above all things that the audience believes us. I want them to feel that they are watching a real story unfold before their eyes and not just a bunch of dancers doing impressive things on stage. The company is full of truly committed artists and I’m sure the audience will get as swept away as we do everyday on rehearsal.

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From February 26 – March 8, 2015, Houston Ballet presents the highlight of the 2014-2015 season: the world premiere of a new production of Romeo and Juliet by Stanton Welch. One of Shakespeare’s most famous tales, Stanton Welch’s Romeo and Juliet will be a fresh, brilliantly imagined interpretation of the classic love story of two star-crossed lovers. The production is set to the exquisite score by Sergei Prokofiev and designed by renowned Italian designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno, who will create the spectacular scenery and costumes for the production. This new production, Houston Ballet’s first in 28 years, is made possible through the generosity of longtime Houston Ballet supporters Ted and Melza Barr.

For more information: http://www.houstonballet.org/Ticketing-Schedule/Season-Calendar/Romeo-and-Juliet/

Watch a preview of Romeo and Juliet:

 

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