Ballet San Antonio brings its most ambitious project yet to the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts with this week’s production of “Romeo and Juliet.” There are four opportunities to take in this classic Shakespearean spectacle over Valentine’s Day weekend.
Performances are set for Friday, Feb. 13 and Saturday, Feb. 14 at 8 p.m. If a matinee is more your style, there are performances at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Ballet lovers are abuzz with anticipation as the dancers enter the final week of rehearsals. The company has been hard at work since January with Ballet Mistress Amy Fote and guest artist Dominic Walsh – both of whom are former Principal Dancers with Houston Ballet – setting Sir Ben Stevenson’s version of the classic tale of the tragically star-crossed lovers.
I had an opportunity to chat with newly minted Principal Dancer Sally Turkel about the challenges of such an ambitious production. Turkel was promoted by Artistic Director Gabriel Zertuche after the successful holiday run of “The Nutcracker,” joining the exquisite Sarah Pautz, Ian Morris, and Jayson Pescasio. They will be alternating in the role of Juliet with Turkel partnered by First Soloist Yosvani Cortellan and Pautz with her long-time partner, Principal Ian Morris.
TK: How is it to finally be promoted to Principal after all these years of hard work?
Sally Turkel: Well, once the shock wore off and I have settled into it a bit, it has started to feel more real. I feel a greater responsibility. The promotion brought me a new confidence, and in that position I am more of a role model. I am always conscious of acting and doing my best. Of course, I am working as hard as ever, so that hasn’t changed.
TK: Tell me about the Houston Ballet influence.
ST: Oh, it’s been a really great thing. Houston Ballet is one of the oldest and most respected companies in the country. It is an incredibly well oiled machine and with that influence comes a much higher level of productivity.
Both (Fote and Walsh) expect so much of us. The level of artistry and the work ethic has changed the way that we have been working for the past year. It has been our goal to bring the best to the city and with the help of Houston Ballet, I think we have achieved that. This is a big deal. There are those of us who have been here for years, and to reach this level is a dream come true for us. We hope the city feels the same.
TK: I understand that Sir Ben is in town this week for final rehearsals. How has it been performing for such a legendary choreographer?
ST: Well, this is my second time dancing for Ben (the first was during ‘Cinderella’). What is so great about him is that he is a very real and down to earth human being. He doesn’t put on airs and is so honest in his corrections and notes. He is never harsh or personal. He helps you to change the way you are working and how you are delivering the character of the role.
Yes, it was hard not to be overwhelmed at first, but I have to say that he was quite impressed in our first rehearsal with him. We were very excited that he was happy. There were lots of high fives! I look forward to working with him this week and hearing more of what he has to say. He stresses the importance of the theater, the story-telling, above all else. It’s not about the perfect pirouette. It is most important to tell the story in a ballet like this.
There are many great moments in Stevenson’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and I think it reads very well from the audience perspective. I think this version has a broad appeal that goes beyond just the ballet lover.
TK: How has it been working with new Ballet Mistress Amy Fote over the past several months?
ST: Working with Amy has been great. I admire what she has done with the company. We are more polished, more mature, and are working smarter. She has so much experience and she really works to help each of us to find the artist inside ourselves. She has so much insight. She has helped me to to think about my art in an entirely different way.
Ballet San Antonio has improved by leaps and bounds in the few short years that I have observed them. Keep in mind that I am still very new to the city, so when I caught wind that former Houston Ballet Principal Janie Parker was setting ‘Cinderella’ on the company a few years ago, I sat up and took notice. That was a more than ambitious undertaking for any regional company.
Since then, President and CEO Courtney Mauro Barker and Artistic Director Gabriel Zertuche (working together at BSA since 2011) have continued to take the right risks and have pushed this company forward in a significant way. They are a management powerhouse. Winning the berth as the resident for our new Tobin Center for the Performing Arts was no mean feat. Getting there is one thing, and staying there is quite another.
A significant aspect of pushing the company to new heights of professionalism has been the hiring of Amy Fote. Her last Principal position was at Houston Ballet, and prior to that she performed globally. She is a rare talent. Along with Zertuche, Fote brings a depth of experience to the studio every day that forces dancers to elevate their own performances.
In addition to setting his wonderful ballets on the company, Ben Stevenson, O.B.E. (now Artistic Director at Texas Ballet Theater in Dallas) sits on the Advisory Board for Ballet San Antonio, which is a wonderful thing for our city. I remember when Houston Ballet was a sleepy little regional ballet company in the late 1970s. Under Stevenson’s leadership, the company grew to world-class status, with a $19.2 million annual budget and a $57.6 million endowment. Having a friend and mentor like Stevenson is an immeasurable advantage.
Another advantage to having friends in high places? Exquisite sets and costumes on loan from Houston Ballet. When one doesn’t have much of a budget, it is extremely difficult to adequately stage one of these big, romantic story ballets. The dancing can be of the highest calibre, but I admit that a tired set and threadbare costumes leaves me cold. Audiences here will be treated to sumptuous sets and costumes, no less than the hard working dancers of this company deserve. I understand that it has taken two days to load the sets into The Tobin — two days. My guess is that we are in for a visual treat worthy of the setting.
Last, but not least, we will be treated to a live rendition of Prokofiev’s beautiful score by the San Antonio Symphony. Associate Conductor Akiko Fujimoto will wield the baton this weekend, and that is always a treat.
Added bonus: Ticket holders for the Saturday evening performance will be treated to an after-party in The Tobin Center’s lobby, celebrating the holiday of love, 10:30 p.m. until midnight. DJ, drinks, dancing. Now, that is a date night.
Tickets are available at The Tobin Center Box Office, 100 Auditorium Circle. Order by calling 210-223-8624 or just visit tobi.tobincenter.org online.