Richmond Ballet News


January 26th, 2016


Shakespeare’s timeless tale of love and hate comes to life with Malcolm Burn’s beloved choreography

TICKETS  |  FEB. 12-14

The Carpenter Theatre

Returning just in time for the Valentine’s Day weekend, Richmond Ballet is pleased to present Romeo & Juliet, with choreography by the Company’s own Ballet Master, Malcolm Burn, and Sergei Prokofiev’s romantic score, running February 12-14, at the Carpenter Theatre at Dominion Arts Center (formerly Richmond CenterStage). The Ballet welcomes the Richmond Symphony once again this season, which, under the baton of guest conductor Ron Matson, will provide live orchestration for all four performances. The popular full-length work, last performed by the Company in 2010, will conclude the Ballet’s three-show residency at the Carpenter Theatre, before it returns to the Studio Theatre for the conclusion of the 2015-16 season.

This year, the production will feature two pairs of Romeos and Juliets, both well-known to Richmond audiences: Husband and wife duo Valerie Tellmann-Henning and Kirk Henning and on-stage partners Cody Beaton and Fernando Sabino. In addition to Company dancers, the production will feature members of staff, and faculty, adult and child students from The School of Richmond Ballet, celebrating the deep talent of the entire organization. Ms. Tellmann-Henning and Mr. Henning are set to perform on Friday, February 12 at 7:00pm and Saturday, February 13 at 2:00pm, while Ms. Beaton and Mr. Sabino will perform Saturday, February 13th at 7:00pm and Sunday, February 14 at 2:00pm.

Celebrated as one of the greatest love stories ever told, William Shakespeare’s masterful play set in Verona, Italy is known the world over for the powerful duel between the overwhelming emotions that rule the human soul: love and hate. Propelled by a series of events that ultimately consume the storyline’s two young lovers – Juliet Capulet and the son of her family’s sworn enemy, Romeo Montague – the bard’s tragic tale has proved fertile ground for artists of all trades for centuries, with popular renditions performed by ballet companies across the globe. Mr. Burn originally created his version of the classic for The Royal New Zealand Ballet in 1977, bringing it into the repertory of Richmond Ballet in 1995.

Shakespeare’s timeless words serve as the inspiration for the ballet’s choreography, woven together from the threads of eager youth, the ecstasy of a first love, the intensity of a violent hatred, the damaging rupture of broken family bonds, and the wrenching heartbreak of loss. Colored by the richness of Prokofiev’s evocative and romantic score, this tale of young love destroyed by hate is sure to be a highlight of the 2015-16 season. “I have always sought to focus on the intimacies that, in my mind, lie at the heart of this play. The most poignant of these is a very personal sense of loss,” explained Mr. Burn. “From follies and squabbles between two families, wreckage is unleashed, and it ripples out well beyond the families who have lost their children. Shakespeare writes the following, for The Prince of Verona, near the play’s conclusion: ‘And I for winking at your follies too, have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punish’d.’ This is how I always begin work on this ballet. All suffer great loss as a result of the destruction of two young lives; that’s the tragedy, and it’s one that is able to meet each and every one of us in a personal space where our greatest sorrows may reside.”

“We are incredibly lucky to have Malcolm Burn in this community,” said Richmond Ballet Artistic Director Stoner Winslett. “He really is an extraordinary artist in so many ways. He’s been here for 29 years, and after finishing his dance career in Richmond, he’s become a faculty member, a Ballet Master and a choreographer.  He actually choreographed this version of Romeo & Juliet before I even met him, for The Royal New Zealand Ballet. I later saw it on videotape and thought it was particularly well done, and had heard very nice things about it from Nicholas Beriozoff and other people. We premiered it in 1995, and it was an instant success with the audience.”

Mr. Burn’s standout choreography for the production is as timeless as the sixteenth century words that inspired it. From the ballet’s opening in a bustling and lively town square to the final moments enveloped by the darkness of a tomb, the rich story unfolds through Mr. Burn’s studied and carefully articulated steps and layered characters. “There’s something about telling the story of the young lovers through movement and music that may be even more powerful than through words,” added Ms. Winslett. “Malcolm’s version is very tender, very romantic, and very evocative.”


The sets designed by frequent Richmond Ballet collaborator Charles Caldwell and costumes designed by Allan Lees provide another opportunity to showcase the brilliance of Mr. Burn’s rendition. “The scenery is entirely black and white, although in the style of the Renaissance, and the costumes are wonderfully ornate, adorned with pearls and velvets,” explained Ms. Winslett. “The final effect is much like jewels popping out of a newsprint background. It’s opulent in an unusual way.”

Adding to the richness of the production is Prokofiev’s much-loved score. “The play of Romeo & Juliet has endured because of Shakespeare’s eloquence in telling this tale of love and hate. The ballet of Romeo & Juliet has endured because of the brilliance of Prokofiev’s melodic and dramatic score,” wrote Mr. Burn upon the ballet’s 2010 revival. “Prokofiev assigns themes to particular characters and emotions in the ballet, and these reoccurring themes tie the developing story together while uniting the composition musically. [The score] is considered by many to be the best ballet score of the 20th century.”

The history of Romeo & Juliet as a ballet actually has its roots in the score itself, when, in 1934, Prokofiev was approached to pen a musical score for a balletic telling of the classic story, yet the composer insisted on some changes; for instance, he wished, shockingly, to exchange the tragic denouement for a happy one. However, such dramatic alterations to the Shakespeare text provoked controversy among the Soviet cultural officials, and Prokofiev was urged to write new, suitably mournful music for the finale. Matters worsened when members of the Bolshoi Ballet then deemed the revamped score “undanceable.” With both the Bolshoi Ballet and the Kirov Ballet declining to move forward with the commission, the work eventually premiered in 1938, outside the Soviet Union, in Brno, Czechoslovakia, with choreography by Ivo Vanya Psota. While it remains unclear how the 1938 version may have looked or sounded, it is known that Prokofiev himself was unable to attend, travel privileges having been revoked by the Soviet government. However, word of the new ballet made its way back to Leningrad, and more specifically, to the Kirov Ballet, now keen to take on the entire commission. In the hands of famed choreographer Leonid Lavrovsky (who also asked for additional changes to the score), the happy ending was removed once and for all in 1940, and the ballet transformed into the most important Russian ballet of the 20th century.

The score and the choreography would later make their way to the West through a feature-length film of the ballet, among other methods. Dozens of Western choreographers were soon inspired by the breathtaking score, and were quick to take up Shakespeare’s undeniable story. Frederick Ashton, Nicholas Beriozoff, John Cranko, Rudi van Dantzig, Kenneth MacMillian, John Neumeier, and Rudolph Nureyev, alongside many others, produced memorable versions of the tragic tale throughout the second half of the 20th century. Mr. Burn’s version, filled with heartfelt original choreography, dashingly dangerous swordfights and even some well-timed humor, owes its greatest inspiration to that of Mr. Beriozoff (known to him as “Papa”), while paying homage to many of the versions that have come before it.

Romeo & Juliet is timeless because both Shakespeare’s script and Prokofiev’s score reflect the layers upon layers that are inherent in all human interaction – life, death, envy, hatred, love,” continued Mr. Burn. “It may seem that love is all, that lovers exist in a rarefied world unto themselves, but ultimately, even the truest love has its complexities and consequences. Romeo & Juliet tells this story, and in the telling, shows us ourselves.


RVA Loves RJ 4 - 72 dpiThe Richmond Ballet production of Romeo & Juliet is also part of next months’ RVA Loves R&J Festival, in partnership with Virginia Opera.Anchored by the major productions of Romeo & Juliet by Virginia Opera and Richmond Ballet, RVA Loves R&J celebrates William Shakespeare’s tale of tragic young love. The transformative power of ballet and opera will provide provocative insight into this timeless love story. Complete your Romeo & Juliet experience with the Virginia Wine Expo, and your February in downtown Richmond will be the month to celebrate with the ones you love. RVA Loves R&J is part of the Virginia Shakespeare Initiative, a statewide celebration of William Shakespeare’s work in anticipation of the 400th anniversary of his death on April 23, 2016. LEARN MORE.




Choreography by Malcolm Burn  | Music by Sergei Prokofiev  |  TICKETS

Friday, February 12, 7:00 pm

Saturday, February 13, 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm

Sunday, February 14, 2:00 pm

Carpenter Theatre at Dominion Arts Center  |  600 E. Grace Street, Richmond, Virginia 23219

Tickets start at $20.00. Tickets available at, by calling 1.800.514.3849, or through the Richmond Ballet Box Office at 407 E. Canal Street.


Casting is always subject to change.


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