BALLET IRELAND, The National Ballet of Ireland, comes to the Town Hall next week with its hugely successful production of Romeo & Juliet, set to Sergei Prokofiev’s thrilling score.
This Ballet Ireland staging was first choreographed by Morgann Runacre-Temple in 2010, and is now in the midst of a national tour arranged due to overwhelming demand by theatres and audiences.
Based on Shakespeare’s tale of the star-crossed lovers, Romeo & Juliet is one of the greatest love stories of all time. Against a backdrop of ancient feuds and gang warfare, the ill-fated young couple falls hopelessly in love, but their families are bitter enemies. In order to be together the two lovers must be prepared to risk everything.
A ballerina’s journey
This production will be performed by 16 top professional dancers and leading the cast is Dublin born ballerina Zoë Ashe-Browne in the role of Juliet. During a break in rehearsals she took time to chat about her career to date and the challenge of playing Juliet.
Zoe initially trained at the Debbie Allen School of Dance and was a member of the Irish National Youth Ballet Company. At 16 she gained a place at the English National Ballet School on full scholarship.
She has won The Irish National Dance Awards (2002 and 2004 ), and was the first Irish winner of The Imperial Ballet Awards (2005 ), The Stella Mann Bursary (2005 ), and The Elizabeth Baines-Hewitt Award (2007 ).
“When I was younger I was doing ballet as a hobby much as other kids do but there is no real ballet culture here in Ireland,” she tells me about her early forays into dance. “Then, when I was 14, I was very lucky to be taught by Fiona Chadwick who’d been a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet. She told me to try for schools in London; I had always wanted to but I didn’t know much about it.
“I took her advice and she helped me to audition and to take part in competitions and I won which helped me get a place at ENBS. My parents were very supportive even though they didn’t really know what they were getting into!”
She describes the upheaval of moving to London as a teenager and commencing full-time dance training.
“It was more a culture shock than anything,” she says. “I was the only Irish girl and there were hardly even any British girls, there were dance students there from Japan, Brazil, Italy, Poland, and Russia so it was difficult at first to make friends and get past the language barriers. Then there was the whole change from doing ballet for an hour and a half after school to doing it from 8.30am to 6pm every day.
“I had a lot of catching up to do because in Ireland there weren’t as many teachers at the same level as the ones in England and France, in those countries you can start full-time training at the age of 11, so when I went there everyone else seemed more advanced so it was an uphill struggle to begin with but I got through it.”
Upon graduation Zoë took up her first professional contract with Ballet Ireland where she performed in Michael Corder’s Lyric Suite and Morgann Runacre-Temple’s Cinderella.
In her second season with the company she created and performed the title role of Juliet in Runacre-Temples’s staging of Romeo & Juliet. Zoë has also danced with the English National Ballet in Manon, Sleeping Beauty, and Swan Lake. She has also worked with the acclaimed Peter Schaufuss Ballet in Denmark
A play within a ballet
When Prokofiev first presented his score for Romeo & Juliet to the Bolshoi Ballet in 1936 he was told the music was “undanceable”. Zoe outlines the challenge it presents for dancers.
“The music is absolutely gorgeous but it was initially thought to be undanceable, there are so many swells and crescendos,” she says, “and it doesn’t have what you could call a steady beat. But once you embrace it it’s exceptional. It’s a real treasure, you can’t not feel connected to it when you listen to it and Morgann has done a really good job of creating something different.”
Morgann Runacre-Temple is choreographer in residence at Ballet Ireland and has made nine works for the company. She was one of four choreographers chosen to participate in Dancelines 2009 at The Royal Opera House with Wayne McGregor, resident choreographer of The Royal Ballet.
“Her movements are very grounded,” Zoë observes, “and there is a lot of intertwining movement. She’s also very aware of the story and that never gets lost. Choreographically she will find inspiration in each dancer and what they are good at, so she choreographs toward everyone’s niches so you end up with a great diversity of movement within the production.”
Runacre-Temple has come up with a novel slant on the story, as Zoë reveals.
“It’s done as a play within a play,” she says. “It starts in a schoolroom with a fight scene on the school tables then the headmaster comes in. As a punishment he assigns them the play Romeo & Juliet to keep them occupied, then it morphs into the school play itself. Our costumes and props are very simple, along the lines of what you would expect to find in a classroom.”
The production has proved a big hit with audiences and critics. The Irish Times described it as “Ireland’s finest full-length production to date. Ashe-Browne and Horn deliver heart-stopping interpretations of the final scene. Runacre-Temple taps into a zeitgeist that so many other ballet companies desperately want to access right now. Runacre-Temple gets it.”
Zoë has described Juliet as her favourite role.
“It can be a cliché for a girl to say Juliet is her favourite role but she goes on such a journey throughout the piece that it really is an incredible part to do,” says Zoë. “She goes from a girl to a woman. You can also build an amazing connection with your partner. It takes a lot out of you as well, you have to create this freshness and innocence at the beginning and then go to her death at the end so it’s quite a challenge.”
It’s a challenge that Zoë triumphantly rises to as Galway audiences will see when Romeo & Juliet graces the Town Hall stage next Tuesday May 1 at 8pm.
Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie