Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy about the doomed young lovers of Verona has been recreated in almost every theatrical form for hundreds of years, and this week San Francisco Ballet continues its 2023 season with Helgi Tomasson’s interpretation of Romeo and Juliet.
A passionate, dramatic and colorful work, Romeo and Juliet has long held an allure for choreographers and composers as well, and various interpretations of the ballet have emerged since its first appearance in the latter part of the18th century. Now one of the best loved full-length ballets in the repertoire, the versions which have proved the most enduring are those set to Sergei Prokofiev’s sumptuous score – acknowledged as one of his greatest masterpieces.
Prokofiev composed Romeo and Juliet in 1935, on commission from Russian theatrical director, Sergei Radlov, for the Bolshoi Theatre. The libretto was created by Prokofiev, Radlov and Adrian Piotrovsky – a critic, theatre historian and playwright – with choreography by Leonid Lavrovsky. When Prokofiev delivered the score in 1936, it was deemed “undanceable” by the artistic direction of the Bolshoi, and the contract was canceled. Three years later, Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet was premiered in Brno, Czechoslovakia, with the assistance of Ivo Váňa Psota – a dancer, choreographer and director.
It wasn’t until January 11th, 1940, that the ballet – having undergone significant revisions – was premiered in what was then known as Leningrad – now St Petersburg – by the Kirov Theatre – now the Mariinsky – with choreography by Lavrovsky, and Konstantin Sergeyev and Galina Ulanova in the leading roles.
Romeo and Juliet has everything it needs for success – busy street scenes danced with riotous abandon, thrilling (and incredibly realistic) sword fights, imperious parents and courtiers, Juliet’s loveable Nurse, an elegant ball scene, a passionate love story, brilliant dancing and a superb score.
The beautiful scenery and costume design for this production are by Jens-Jacob Worsaae, lighting design is by Thomas R Skelton and choreography for the fight scenes is by Martino Pistone in collaboration with Helgi Tomasson.
The production runs for 10 performances from April 21st to 30th at the War Memorial Opera House, with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra under the leadership of Music Director Martin West. Further information and booking details can be found on the San Francisco Ballet website.
Information sourced from:
San Francisco Ballet program notes
BalletAndOpera.com, St Petersburg