Ballet and swordplay

Dance performance of 'Romeo and Juliet' features action in addition to romance

Posted: Thursday, June 01, 2000

Neo-classical ballet and sword fighting can be a dangerous mix.

``It's very hard because it has to be to the music, and the music is fast,'' said ballet master Christian Martinu. ``It's like a karate film -- it has to look real.''

Martinu will portray a sword-wielding Romeo in the upcoming dance production of ``Romeo and Juliet.'' Based closely on the play by Shakespeare, the ballet performances will be at 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium.

Rio Mitani will play Juliet. Mitani and her partner Martinu came to the capital city a year ago from Austria to serve as artistic director and ballet master for Juneau Dance Unlimited.

About 30 dancers, JDU's teachers and advanced students, will join them to perform in ``Romeo and Juliet.''

Mitani said the supporting cast has a much more active role in the ballet than is often the case. Unlike ``Swan Lake,'' she said, where the non-principle dancers often find themselves standing off to the side with their eyes down, ``Romeo and Juliet'' demands that all performers are actively participating in the drama.


``In the sword fighting scene, the principles are fighting, but the whole cast moves to accentuate the action,'' Martinu said.

Mitani and Martinu are basing their ballet on a version created in 1958 by British dancer and choreographer John Cranko.

``I tried to keep some of the dances in the original choreography of Cranko, which means professional dancing,'' Mitani said. ``It's quite a challenge for the students.''

The two have also created new choreography for the ballet, focusing on the most important pas de deux pieces. Pas de deux means dance for two, and usually refers to duets by the principle dancers.

``Times change, and ballet is developing a lot. Many different dance forms give influence. Even hip-hop influences neo-classical dance,'' Martinu said. ``Of course, there is not hip-hop in `Romeo and Juliet.' But everything which comes to us is integrated into our work.''

A reception and party will follow the Saturday night performance. A buffet will be set up backstage, and Martinu encourages audience members to stay and talk with the dancers. Martinu said he would especially like to hear feedback on the performance, and anyone talking with he or Mitani after the ballet will receive a free ticket to Sunday's performance.

Another reason for the reception is to honor five JDU students who are leaving Juneau this year to pursue advanced education and possible careers in professional dance. Angela Fowler, Brittany Troutt, Coleen Diltz, Blythe Sturdevant and Anna Percival have all been accepted at dance academies.

The first half of the program will be ``Le Cirque,'' or ``The Circus.'' Created by Mitani and choreographed by six JDU dance instructors, ``Le Cirque'' will include about 120 dancers. Jazz, hip-hop, modern, tap and other styles will be represented. Dancer Coleen Diltz will serve as a ringmaster presiding over a variety of short performances.

``Romeo and Juliet'' will be about 50 minutes long. The performers will dance to music by 20th century Russian composer Sergey Prokofiev, recorded by Andre Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra.

Tickets are available at Hearthside Books and at the door. The cost is $10 for children, $12 for adults if bought in advance and $15 at the door.

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