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North American Premiere for Mats Ek's Juliet & Romeo

Marie Lindqvist as Juliet's nurse. Photo by Carl Thorborg, Courtesy Royal Swedish Ballet.

In 2013, the Royal Swedish Ballet celebrated its 240th birthday. Never a company to be mired in tradition, RSB commissioned prolific and provocative contemporary choreographer Mats Ek to create a new version of Romeo and Juliet. True to form, Ek turned the ballet on its head, reversing the title, using new music and creating a world of simmering brutality. In recognition of his creativity, the ballet won the 2015 Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production.


Until now, North American audiences haven't had a chance to see this work. Royal Swedish Ballet will give Juliet & Romeo its North American premiere June 1–4, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and June 10–12, at the Segerstrom Center in Costa Mesa, California. "Mats' version is based on the very first version of the play," says RSB artistic director Johannes Öhman, referencing an Italian story by Luigi Da Porto which pre-dates Shakespeare. "The inverted title is important because in this ballet, Juliet is absolutely the main role. The story focuses on her perspective." It also conjures a modern cityscape—rather than courtly Verona—with its stark lighting, shifting walls and pedestrian costumes.

Photo by Carl Thorborg, Courtesy Royal Swedish Ballet.

Ek chose to create his ballet—performed in technique shoes and barefoot, rather than on pointe—to a composite score by Tchaikovsky, instead of the Prokofiev score used by Sir Kenneth MacMillan and others. "It might be surprising, especially for a knowledgeable ballet audience," Öhman says. "But Tchaikovsky's music fits Mats' revised storyline."

The RSB hasn't visited the Kennedy Center in over 15 years, and Öhman is excited to bring such a new work to the U.S. "The company has a very close, collaborative relationship with Mats," he says. "His style is direct and progressive, and it's a big honor for RSB to perform at such an important venue."

It's a unique opportunity for audiences, too. Ek, who announced his retirement in January, will take the rights to his choreography with him. RSB is licensed to perform Juliet & Romeo for two more years, but after that it might be a long time before the ballet visits North America again.

The Conversation
Ballet Stars
Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

Your teacher at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Marcia Dale Weary, recently passed away. What impact did she have on you?

I feel deeply indebted to her. She shaped my life's course, and I know that were it not for her, I would not be living out my dream today. She led by example through her remarkable commitment to her work, as well as her genuine kindness and generosity.

You were a trainee with San Francisco Ballet. What was that experience like?

It was an exposure to different schools of thought. We were mostly in the full-lengths, and watching run-throughs of Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote was revolutionary for me. But I was young and far away from home. That transition was hard. My body started changing. It wanted to be fleshy. Biology is cruel in that way. I desperately wanted to fit in, but it wasn't meant to be.

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"She is a supreme dance actress with an innate ability to bring the audience into her world," says NBoC artistic director Karen Kain. "Nan has always brought such a calm confidence into the studio and has been a role model for so many dancers I will miss her generosity both inside the studio and out." We spoke with Yu as she prepared for her final week of performances. She opened up about her initial culture shock upon moving to Toronto, her thoughts on artistry and why she chose Hanna Glawari in The Merry Widow as her final role.

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