Partnering gets taken to the next level in Cincinnati Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet this weekend. Not only has much of the choreography changed since the company premiered this production five years ago, but the people involved have also evolved.
Principal Dancer Janessa Touchet, who is performing the role of Juliet for the second time, discusses how the experience has been different this time. When she watched herself on video from the production five years ago, she says she hardly recognized herself — and not just because her hair was darker. She says that back then she was more focused on perfecting her technique than her character development.
“Last time, I was nervous because it was more like me coming out of my shell,” Touchet says. “I had never really done a dramatic full-length ballet before.”
Juliet is certainly a big role to tackle, requiring both physical and dramatic chops.
“You spend a lifetime of a [short] career, and there are a few parts that are really important and career-changing,” says Victoria Morgan, Cincinnati Ballet’s artistic director and CEO. “I think Janessa is having that sort of experience with Juliet.”
Touchet is now in the first cast with Principal Dancer Cervilio Amador, who’s performing the Romeo role for the first time. She’s excited and grateful to have the chance to partner with someone she’s very close to.
“It’s so special to do this kind of ballet with somebody you love,” she says.
Though the two aren’t lovers, as longtime company dancers they’ve been through a lot together: ballet competitions, growing and moving up within the ranks of the company, as well as developing a strong (platonic) relationship.
“It’s crazy; a lot of people think we’re an actual couple in real life because we’re so comfortable with each other when we dance, but we’ve never had that sort of attraction toward each other,” Touchet says.
Thanks to her close bond with Amador, she says she doesn’t have to worry so much about acting because the emotions feel real. She says they’ve fought like brother and sister, so she can tap into the wide range of emotions the ballet demands, from anger to love and beyond. Touchet hopes the audience will experience their emotions as authentic.
“That’s the last thing they’re going to remember: how you fall in love and how you kill yourself — those emotions. That’s what I’m most excited about this time around is to really show those real feelings.”
Having partnered together for so long also brings advantages for both the dancers and the choreography. Fittingly, as part of revisiting her work, Morgan decided to re-choreograph the story’s several pas de deux especially for Touchet and Amador.
No small feat, as those duets comprise a sizable portion of the ballet: among them are the ballroom, balcony, bedroom, wedding, and tomb scenes. Morgan knows the duo’s strengths both as individuals and as partners, and that opened the door for new creative possibilities in the studio — and more challenging material.
“She’s always pushing herself and she’s always growing,” Amador says of Morgan.
Morgan says she believes they’ve all grown up a little bit over the last five years.
“It’s been so much fun!” Morgan says of their process. “[Their partnership] feels really different; it feels so much more raw and earthy. I just feel like there’s more invention around it. We’ve had time to play with it.” And play they did. Amador says that they might spend a whole hour or two on something that only lasts 30 seconds or a minute.
“At one point, I had to ask, ‘Can we please stop doing new choreography because I feel like we’re going to be doing new things until we get to the theater?’ ” Amador says with a chuckle. Naturally, they need time to rehearse and perfect the moves.
Does Amador feel extra pressure performing as Romeo for the first time?
“Definitely!” he says. “It’s a high acting role, and just that alone puts a lot of the pressure on the person. You think, ‘How am I going to interpret this?’ And then double that [pressure], because it’s Victoria’s choreography and Janessa is such a wonderful dancer.”
Clearly, Touchet trusts Amador. “Partnering-wise I can really just let myself go and I don’t have to worry about anything,” she says. And in a recent rehearsal, they made it look easy.
“It’s definitely a plus how comfortable we are with each other,” Amador says, “And do you know what? In the moment, I do love her. In the moment, she’s my Juliet. When I’m working on the ballet, she’s everything.”
What better way to bring Romeo & Juliet’s quintessential romantic roles to life?
Cincinnati Ballet performs ROMEO & JULIET at the Aronoff Center for the Arts Feb. 14-16. Tickets: 513-621-ARTS or cballet.org