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Fully staged ballet may be first for N.M.

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Sergei Prokofiev’s music for the ballet “Romeo and Juliet” premiered 75 years ago. Two years later his famous revised version was first performed.

Since 1940, when that version was presented at the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad, Prokofiev’s music has been used by some of the world’s best-known ballet companies.

The Royal Ballet staged a new production in 1965 with Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. The New York City Ballet presented it with Peter Martins’ choreography in 2008.

Now Prokofiev’s music will be heard when the New Mexico Philharmonic and the New Mexico Ballet Company present “Romeo and Juliet” on Saturday, Jan. 12 and Jan. 13, at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.

It is believed to be the first time that the fully staged ballet is being performed with live music in New Mexico.

“You don’t see a fully staged ballet outside of the major centers,” said Grant Cooper, who is guest-conducting the philharmonic.

“I saw the Prokofiev ballet at the Met in New York last May. … Seeing it staged made me feel even closer to the piece.”

Prokofiev’s music is often played in the form of a symphonic suite.

Cooper said he has frequently conducted scenes from “Romeo and Juliet,” but this will be the first time he is conducting the complete score. Cooper is in his 12th season as artistic director and conductor of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra.

The philharmonic’s collaboration with the New Mexico Ballet Company had its genesis about a year ago. Marian Tanau, the philharmonic’s executive director, approached the ballet company about working on something together other than the “Nutcracker” ballet.

If you go
WHAT: Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet”
WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 12 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 13
WHERE: National Hispanic Cultural Center, 1701 Fourth SW
HOW MUCH: $24 to $68 online at www.nhccnm.org, by calling 505-724-4771, at the NHCC box office or at the door

“I proposed Prokofiev’s ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ thinking we could have the orchestra on stage with some dancers on stage,” Tanau said.

“When I talked to (NMBC executive director) Emily Fine, she presented me with options and costs. One option was to do rudimentary staging with simple props and the orchestra on stage. The other option was a fully staged ballet with beautiful sets and do it the way it was written.”

Jolie Sutton-Simballa, NMBC’s artistic director, pushed for the second option.

“I said to Marian that I’d like to do the whole ballet. I said if you want me to do a full-length ballet, we can, but the musicians would have to be in the pit,” Sutton-Simballa said.

“He was extremely excited. … We both wanted the audience to hear the music and the music is made for the ballet.”

However, she said, she found the score was challenging for her to choreograph because it contains 53 separate musical selections, mostly one to two minutes long. The longest is about eight minutes.

Sutton-Simballa said these “snippets of music … were not just little melodies but stops and starts, crescendos and innuendos. It’s actually exciting and fun to choreograph to, and to figure out what Prokofiev” intended for dancing aside from what he labeled in the libretto.

She also is excited that audiences will get to see a classical ballet other than the popular “Nutcracker.”

Dancing the role of Juliet is Kelly Ruggiero, who is a member of NMBC. Dancing Romeo is Bailey Moon, a freelance dancer in New York City.

The story in the ballet is based on Shakespeare’s tragedy of the same name.

Audience members will have the personal experience of not only determining the meaning of the interaction between the characters but also of hearing the music, Cooper said.

He thinks the audience will have a strong sense that “live musicians are playing the score in real time in the pit. There’s something quite different with a live collaboration in ballet with an orchestra than with a recorded score,” he said.

“We’re lucky that a composer of Prokofiev’s stature was given the opportunity to create such a score. It’s so much more than most ballet scores. Prokofiev’s musical language is so much more freer or suggestive of possibility,” he added.

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