Eric Hall (left) and Jessie Gervias perform as Mercutio and Tybalt in Ballet Victoria’s production of Romeo and Juliet.

Ballet features swords, sorrow and true love

Ballet dancers are phenomenally skilled artists whose physical abilities allow them to give expression to an artistic soul.

Ballet dancers are phenomenally skilled artists whose physical abilities allow them to  give expression to an artistic soul, transporting audiences to realms of the imagination.

They are not, as a rule, sword fighters.

That’s why Ballet Victoria’s artistic director Paul Destrooper is taking special care as he prepares his dancers for the company’s March 8 and 9 staging of Romeo and Juliet.

The ballet features two long sword fights — the first between Mercutio (Romeo’s friend) and Tybalt (the short-tempered cousin of Juliet). When Tybalt kills Mercutio, Romeo takes his place and, in the second fight, manages to dispatch Tybalt.

It’s all very exciting, but dancing around a stage while swinging long sharp objects is about as challenging (and dangerous) as it sounds. In fact, when Destrooper danced the role of Tybalt with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, he was nearly skewered on stage.

“Romeo’s sword pierced two layers of my costume and left me with a long but fairly superficial wound,” said Destrooper. “It’s important within the production to make the fights as realistic as possible, but that was a bit too close to the real thing for my liking.”

In another misstep during that same production, a sword was knocked from the hand of one of the dancers and went soaring into an unsuspecting orchestra pit.

Destrooper said he knows, to be realistic, stage fighting requires a high degree of mastery and concentration.

“It’s fast and it has to be precise but it also has to portray the passion of the characters. There’s no room for a milquetoast in Romeo and Juliet. We’re pushing the dancers beyond their comfort zone…that’s for sure,” he said.

But the ballet goes far beyond the fight scenes.

Drawing upon William Shakespeare’s brilliant, yet tragic tale of two star-crossed lovers, the true challenge of this ballet lies in telling the story without the brilliant poetry of the original play.

The ballet’s poetry is created, not with words, but with nuanced, intelligent choreography, flawlessly executed by the dancers. A stunning score by the great Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev elevates the ballet even further. The overall effect is transcendent.

“This is a ballet where people will experience the whole spectrum of emotion and come away feeling deeply connected to what they’ve just seen,” promised Destrooper.

This is the third performance of the season for Ballet Victoria. Tickets for the March 8 and 9 performances are available at the Royal Theatre box office or at balletvictoria.ca.