At the Ballet
Romeo & Juliet
Stunningly beautiful, Ballet Austin's Romeo & Juliet features exquisite costumes layered with Prokofiev's majestic score and a set illuminated by an Italianate tapestry of stained-glass colors. A spectacle that speaks to heart, mind, and soul. A timeless and unforgettable tale of young love is given new life in Ballet Austin's original interpretation of this Shakespearian classic. Passion and pathos come alive in Artistic Director Stephen Mills' choreography - sometimes lush, sometimes tender, always explosive.
Choreography by Stephen Mills
Music by Sergei Prokofiev
Musical Accompaniment by Austin Symphony Orchestra
Images: View the "Gallery" tab below.
Education: Download "Footnotes" (8-pg PDF).
-Jeanne Claire van Ryzin, Austin American-Statesman
, December 2001
One of the most beloved love stories of all time, Romeo and Juliet
is the classic Shakespearean tragedy following the plight of two young lovers divided by the quarrels of their warring families. Ballet Austin's production tells the epic tale of sword-fighting, disguise, misunderstanding, tragedy, humor, and forbidden romance by combining the classical music of Sergei Prokofiev with Artistic Director Stephen Mills' original choreography. The result is a fresh performance with a contemporary twist that remains true to both the treasured story and the classical ballet.
House of Capulet
Capulet, Head of Capulet family, at odds with Montague
Lady Capulet, Matriarch of the House of Capulet
Juliet, Daughter of Capulet
Tybalt, Cousin of Juliet, nephew of Lady Capulet
The Nurse, Juliet's personal attendant and confidante
Peter, Servant to Capulet's Nurse
Sampson, Servant to Capulet
Gregory, Servant to Capulet
Old Man, Uncle to Capulet
House of Montague
Montague, Head of Montague family, at odds with Capulet
Lady Montague, Matriarch of the House of Montague
Romeo, Son of Montague
Benvolio, Romeo's best friend and cousin, nephew of Montague
Abram, Servant to Montague
Ruling House of Verona
Escalus, Prince of Verona
Paris, a Young Nobleman, Kinsman to the Prince
Mercutio, Kinsman to the Prince, Friend of Romeo
Friar Laurence, Fransican monk, Romeo's confidant
Friar John, Fransican monk
"Two Households, both alike in dignity
In fair Verona where we lay our scene ...”
In a marketplace in Verona, young Romeo Montague and his friends, Mercutio and Benvolio, share in festivities with the villagers. The celebration is interrupted by Tybalt, a Capulet, and a quarrel ensues. The Prince of Verona intercedes and decrees an end to all fighting in the city, but the animosity between the noble families of Capulet and Montague has already been sealed.
"From ancient grudge breaks to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”
As Juliet and her nurse prepare for the Capulet's masked ball, Lord and Lady Capulet arrive to present Paris, the suitor they have selected for their daughter. Barely an adolescent, Juliet shies from his advances and, later that evening, she can only timidly acknowledge his attention. At the encouragement of his friends, Romeo has disguised himself and is also in attendance at the ball. He is immediately captivated by Juliet, and she in turn is enamored with this stranger. Tybalt discovers the interloper and in his anger, exposes Romeo as a Montague. After a hasty retreat, Romeo returns to Juliet's garden, where the couple pledges their love to one another.
"From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers ...”
In the market, the villagers celebrate. The nurse appears with a letter for Romeo expressing Juliet's consent to marriage. Friar Lawrence reluctantly agrees to perform the ceremony. When Romeo returns to placate Tybalt, Mercutio intercedes and in the ensuing duel, is killed.
"A plague o' both your houses!”
Feeling responsible for his friend's death, Romeo fights and kills Tybalt. Having broken the Prince's decree, Romeo flees to the monastery where the Friar persuades him to leave the city.
Vowing to leave at first morning light, Romeo spends the night with his beloved bride. After his departure, Lord Capulet comes to Juliet insisting that she marry Paris and at her refusal, threatens to disown her. Juliet seeks the Friar's help and he gives her a potion which will simulate her death. Once she is placed inside the family crypt, Friar Lawrence will send Romeo to her. The Friar's message is delayed and Romeo, believing Juliet dead, comes out of exile to mourn at her grave. Encountering Paris at the crypt, Romeo kills Paris and, in despair, ends his own life with a deadly poison. Too late, Juliet awakens from her slumber and finding her lover dead, speeds to her own death with his dagger.
"For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
Romeo and Juliet
may be one of the most recognizable—and quotable—of all of William Shakespeare's works. The story highlights the reckless beauty of young love, and the tragic senselessness of bigotry and war.
The plot is based upon the Italian folktale, The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet
. Shakespeare made changes to the original tale, however, adding characters, developing depth of female roles, and significantly lowering the age of Juliet. In the original story, Juliet is understood to be 16, but Shakespeare changed her age to just 13 for his play. He may have done this for two reasons. First of all, since all actors during Shakespeare's time were young boys and men, Shakespeare may have believed his Juliet—played by an adolescent male—would be more believable if she was younger, at the edge of childhood as opposed to the cusp of womanhood. Secondly, while marriage at 13 or 14 years old was by no means uncommon in Shakespeare's day, it was far more common for young women to be married between the ages of 16 and 18. With this change in age, he may have been emphasizing the hastiness of young love and the prematurity of Romeo and Juliet's devotion to one another.
The play's dramatic structure is quite unique, and evidence of his early skill. The play often switches between elements of both comedy and tragedy, and each character's lines were written to express a particular poetic form, one that sometimes changes and develops along with the audience's understanding of the character. For example, Romeo's lines are written as sonnets, yet they become more virtuosic, beautiful, and deep throughout the course of the play.
The play has won the hearts of many around the world, and has been the inspiration for many forms of performance, including film, theatre, and dance. In the late 1930s, after returning to his home country after almost 20 years, composer Sergei Prokofiev was commissioned by the Kirov Theater to write a ballet of Romeo and Juliet. In what had recently become the Soviet Union, Prokofiev and other artists were under strict control by the government. The Union of Soviet Composers enforced stringent guidelines for what could be written and performed. The Kirov returned the first version of what would become one of Prokofiev's greatest works, claiming the music was impossible to dance to. In response, he revised his score—and offended many during the process—crafting a "happy and joyful" ending to the original tragedy.
Needless to say, the new storyline did not pass the censors. In the end, Prokofiev reluctantly agreed to stick to the original ending, yet he continued to be harassed by the dancers who apparently disliked the intensity of the work. They jeered, ”A sorrier tale you simply won't find, than the Prokofiev ballet kind.” The first production of the ballet, performed by the Bolshoi Ballet and choreographed by Vánia Psota, premiered in Brno, Czechoslovakia in 1938, and received mixed reviews. The Kirov Ballet, however, revised the piece. Prokofiev rejected the new version, choreographed by Leonid Lavrosky in 1940, yet it became a regular part of the Russian ballet repertoire several years later.
Since then, many ballet companies have reproduced and performed the original piece, while others such as Stuttgart Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Royal Ballet, New York City Ballet, and Ballet Austin have created their own stagings of the ballet using the Prokofiev score.
Lambros Lambrou first choregraphed Romeo and Juliet
for Ballet Austin in 1998. Stephen Mills choreographed his own version in 2001, which opened his first season as Artistic Director. Mills' Romeo & Juliet
quickly became a favorite among Ballet Austin patrons and was performed again in 2006.
Commissioned during a time of intense Soviet censorship, the Bolshoi Theater rejected Prokofiev's original score, claiming the music to be too difficult and, thus, impossible to dance to. The score was rewritten, and the ballet premiered in 1938. According to Galina Ulanova, the first Soviet Juliet, the dancers had to "try to hear some melodic pattern of our own, something nearer to our own conception of how the love of Romeo and Juliet would be expressed."
The score requires a similar type of virtuosity and creativity of the performing musicians as it does of the dancers. In addition to what are considered the standard instrumentation of a modern orchestra, the ballet utilizes the unique character of the tenor saxophone in both solo and the ensemble. Furthermore, the cornet, viola d'amore, and mandolins—three more instruments that are not typically included in an orchestra—are used in the ballet, serving to emphasize the story's Italian setting.
"Prokofiev wrote over three hours of music for Romeo and Juliet
. This score has very specific rhythm. You have to find how to complement it with choreography and still find musical identity. It's more of a challenge, more of a battle really."
—Stephen Mills, Artistic Director
"Although the original Bolshoi Ballet dancers disliked the Romeo and Juliet
musical score, the Ballet Austin dancers enjoy it. The music has a steady beat, and the melody is arranged in phrases that are easy to hear. At the same time, Stephen often finds secondary melodies or rhythms to support his choreography, providing plenty of challenges."
—Michelle Martin, Associate Artistic Director
Cast & Credits
working cast – subject to change
Ashley Lynn Gilfix
Paul Michael Bloodgood
Prince of Verona
Anne Marie Melendez
Jaime Lynn Witts
Jaime Lynn Witts
Choreography by Stephen Mills
Music by Sergei Prokofiev
Scenic Design by Tommy Bourgeois & Tony Tucci
Costume Design by Tommy Bourgeois
Lighting Design by Tony Tucci
Fencing Choreography by Christopher Hannon & Frank Shott
Stephen Mills, Choreographer
Stephen Mills began his tenure as Artistic Director at Ballet Austin in 2000. From his inaugural season, Mills attracted attention from around the country with his world-premiere production of Hamlet
, hailed by Dance Magazine
as "…sleek and sophisticated." In 2004, The Washington Post
dubbed Ballet Austin "one of America's best kept secrets" after Ballet Austin performed Mills' world premier of The Taming of the Shrew
, commissioned by and performed at The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. In 2005, Mills led 13 organizations through a community-wide human rights collaboration that culminated in the world premiere work Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project
, after which the Austin Anti-Defamation League Awarded Mills its 2006 Humanitarian Award.
With his growing portfolio of over 40 works, Stephen Mills continues to enrich the repertories of companies across the U.S. and all over the world, including The Hong Kong Ballet, American Ballet Theatre Studio Company, The Atlanta Ballet, The Milwaukee Ballet, Washington Ballet, Cuballet in Havana, Cuba, BalletMet Columbus, The Dayton Ballet, The Sarasota Ballet of Florida, Ballet Pacifica, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, The Louisville Ballet, The Nashville Ballet, Fort Worth/Dallas Ballet, The Sacramento Ballet, and Dance Kaleidoscope.
He also received the Steinberg Award, the top honor at the Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur International Choreographic Competition, for his original work One/The Body's Grace
Sergei Prokofiev, Composer
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) is admired as one of the most masterful composers of the 20th century. Prokofiev wrote his first composition when he was six years old, completing a three-act opera by age nine.
In 1936, Prokofiev created the children's symphony Peter and the Wolf
for the Central Children's Theatre in Moscow. To this day, the work is well known and well loved by children and adults alike.
He began to compose music for ballets in 1915 and continued to do so until his death in 1953. Although Prokofiev regarded his ballets to be of secondary importance to his operas, his ballet music received much more acclaim than his operas ever did. For the famous ballet company the Ballet Russes Prokofiev created the score for Prodigal Son
, with choreography by the young George Balanchine in 1929. In 1940, Prokofiev created the haunting score for Romeo and Juliet
; in 2001, Stephen Mills used this score to create his ballet production of the same name. Other successful ballet scores include Cinderella
(1945) and The Tale of the Stone Flower
Prokofiev died on March 5, 1953, the same day Joseph Stalin died.
William Shakespeare, Playwright and Poet
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is regarded as the one of greatest writers of the English language. In his lifetime, he wrote over 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and 2 narrative poems. The English dramatist is thought to have been able "to express the deepest levels of human motivation in individual, social, and universal situations." He was born in Stratford-upon-Avon and spent most of his career in London with the company of actors known as the Lord Chamberlain's Men, later the King's Men.
Shakespeare's plays can be categorized as comedy, tragedy, or history, and his characters span the depth and breadth of human experience. During a time when women were better seen and not heard, Shakespeare wrote women as multi-faceted, interesting, and as accomplished as male characters. His plots and characters subtly satirize social practices and political institutions, as well as hold up both human victories and failings.
His surviving works have been translated into every major world language and his plays are performed more than any other playwright. His stories have inspired operas, ballets, symphonies, paintings, musicals, and popular songs. His plays are known around the world for their universal themes, their sometimes comic, sometimes tragic heroes and heroines, and their stories that seem to speak to all ages and inspire every art form.
"Director Stephen Mills, whose Hamlet
was a highlight of 2000, did it again: he took a classic ballet and recrafted it into a fresh, clean, contemporary ballet distinguished by elegance, strength and drama. Oh, yes—and it was simply gorgeous."
—Jeanne Claire van Ryzin, Austin American-Statesman
, December 2001
Family Dance Workshop – Romeo & Juliet
Sun Apr 29, 2012 | 2 – 3:30pm
Ballet Austin’s AustinVentures StudioTheater
See excerpts from Ballet Austin’s Romeo & Juliet
, and create your own choreography with the help of Ballet Austin dancers. Recommended for ages 3 to 12 years old and their family members. Learn more or sign up
Studio Spotlight – Romeo & Juliet
Thurs May 3, 2012
12 – 1pm or 6 – 7pm
Ballet Austin’s AustinVentures StudioTheater
Watch a professional dance company in action! Up-close, personal, and informal, Studio Spotlight gives guests a behind-the-scenes look at choreography and elements from the upcoming production while it is still in the works. This is the perfect lunchtime break or happy hour activity! Free admission for those who RSVP. Learn more or sign up
Footlights – Romeo & Juliet
One hour prior to all performances May 11 – 13, 2012
The Long Center
Enhance your experience at the ballet with a pre-show lecture and Q&A for all ages. See the last-minute preparations unfold in the background as you relax and gain a unique understanding of the performance you are about to see! Learn more