Aspen Ballet takes big step with its `Romeo and Juliet’ |

Aspen Ballet takes big step with its `Romeo and Juliet’

Stewart Oksenhorn

The Aspen Ballet Company is not planning to make a feature-length ballet part of its program on an annual basis.

But when Aspen Ballet’s co-artistic directors Jean-Philippe Malaty and Tom Mossbrucker looked over the company dancers and saw the real-life couple of Brooke Klinger and Seth DelGrasso, they knew they had the foundation for a production of “Romeo and Juliet.”

“Here we figure we have the perfect Romeo, the perfect Juliet,” said Mossbrucker. “We felt we had all the elements for all the characters.”

Aspen Ballet brings its production of “Romeo and Juliet,” with original choreography by another real-life couple – Malaty and Mossbrucker – to the Wheeler Opera House stage beginning tonight at 7:30 p.m. “Romeo and Juliet,” set to the original score by Prokofiev, continues with evening performances tomorrow and Saturday and a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday.

The Aspen Ballet Company – and before it, its predecessor, the Aspen Ballet School – has had a long-running tradition of presenting a feature-length version of the “Nutcracker” each Christmas season. But “Romeo and Juliet” is a vast step forward from the “Nutcracker,” which included all the students of the Aspen Ballet School.

“`Romeo and Juliet’ is more serious,” said Mossbrucker. “It’s not `Swan Lake’; we wouldn’t do `Swan Lake’ because we’re not a big company with a corps of girls who look exactly alike. `Romeo and Juliet’ is unique, because it’s contemporary ballet. It’s classically based, but it’s contemporary.

“It’s the next big step up for us. It’s a big production, it’s a famous ballet, and it’s our own version of it,” he said.

Aspen Ballet is treating the production as a big leap forward. The cast – of company members, guest dancers and select student dancers – numbers 40 in all. The production features 120 costumes, and a set designed by local Loren Brame.

Perhaps most indicative of the level at which Aspen Ballet is approaching “Romeo and Juliet” is the presence of Marianna Tcherkassky, who has been brought in to coach the company. Over the course of a long and distinguished career with New York’s American Theatre Ballet, Tcherkassky became known for dancing the part of Juliet; her farewell New York performance in 1996 featured her playing the female half of Shakespeare’s ultimate doomed couple.

Malaty and Mossbrucker know that one of the biggest challenges facing their company in the upcoming production is in creating and sustaining a character through a two-hour performance, and the biggest challenge is Klinger’s, whose Juliet dances four pas de deux and hardly ever leaves the stage. In Tcherkassky, they have found the ideal coach.

“As a dancer, [Juliet] takes every fiber of your being,” said Tcherkassky, now a ballet mistress with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, where she recently served her first stint as a Juliet coach. “Because it’s not only about the physical and technical. It uses every emotional experience you’ve had – from the total happiness of love to your most desperate. You call upon everything you have to portray the character. There’s a tremendous arc, especially for Juliet, the changes the character goes through.”

One of the biggest aids Aspen Ballet has in creating “Romeo and Juliet” is the Prokofiev score. The Russian composer created the music in 1936 specifically as a ballet score, and it is often called among his greatest achievements.

“It’s Prokofiev at his most passionate and most complete,” said Tcherkassky, the daughter of a Japanese mother and Russian father. “There’s so much in the music defining the characters and the mood. You can hear the cries; you can feel the rapture.”

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