From February 26 – March 8, Houston Ballet will unveil a stunning new production of Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Houston Ballet Artistic Director Stanton Welch and featuring scenery and costumes by the acclaimed Italian designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno. The production has been generously underwritten by Ted and Melza Barr. In this blog entry, Stanton discusses his extensive research to prepare to choreograph this classic work.
Guest writer: Stanton Welch, Artistic Director
Romeo and Juliet is a milestone work, a benchmark for a choreographer. Prokofiev’s score is so exquisitely evocative, with such a strong sense of the individual characters. There are parts of the score that are so moving and emotional that they can bring one to tears.
I have never created a work inspired by Shakespeare’s dramas before.
I first saw a ballet version of Romeo and Juliet when I was about six or seven, and my mother was performing as Juliet in John Cranko’s staging of the work. It was an intensely emotional experience for me, and I distinctly remember not wanting Juliet to take her own life. I grew up as a dancer, watching — and later performing in — the Cranko version with The Australian Ballet.
There were several other ballet versions of Romeo and Juliet that made strong impressions on me. I saw a wonderful 1954 Russian film version of Leonid Lavrosky’s staging featuring Galina Ulanova as Juliet with some very difficult partnering sequences that were breathtaking. And I also saw both live performances and video of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s version of Romeo and Juliet, featuring a consummate performance by Alessandra Ferri as Juliet that dancers of my generation grew up watching and admiring.
I have also watched several film versions of Shakespeare’s play, including the 2013 version featuring Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth. Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film version of Romeo and Juliet, with Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, was also very influential on me.
To prepare to choreograph my version of Romeo and Juliet, I’ve returned to Shakespeare’s original text. It is such a deep work, which reveals more levels, subtleties and nuances every time you read it.
What’s fascinating to me is that there are difference between what Prokofiev indicates in his score for the ballet and what Shakespeare wrote in his original text. This presents a conundrum for a choreographer: Do you follow Prokofiev’s lead, or do you adhere to Shakespeare’s text?
In my creative process, I’ve also been influenced by our designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno. With her Italian heritage, I think that she brings a very authentic take on the world of Romeo and Juliet.
As I begin to choreograph in the studio, I’m working with three couples, and they will each bring something unique and special to the work. The principal women creating the role of Juliet will be Karina Gonzalez, Melody Mennite and Sara Webb. The final version of the choreography will bear the imprint of each of the three couples upon whom it was created.
Monique Loudieres will come from France to coach the principles of all three casts of Romeo and Juliet. She’s a wonderful, musical actress – and such a warm and loving coach. I love her passion, and I believe that translates into the performances you see on stage.