Behind the scenes of Romeo and Juliet ballet photo shoot
Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet version of Romeo and Juliet, presented by the Lexington Ballet this weekend, is a unique challenge to dancers.
Conveying the emotional scope and depth of Shakespeare’s tragic tale — without words — requires dancers to master a heavy acting component in their performances in addition to the rigorous physical requirements of artistic director Luis Dominguez’s original choreography.
But for its two principal dancers, acting as if they’re in love comes easily.
Jake Lowenstein and Ali Kish, who play Romeo and Juliet, who became engaged in December, built their famously star-crossed characters on the solid foundation of their real-life romance.
“They don’t have to fake that,” Dominguez says.
Unlike their fictional counterparts, the pair’s romance began as friendship five years ago, when they both danced at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.
They began dating, but their careers took them in different directions, with Kish coming to Lexington Ballet and Lowenstein scoring his first professional job at Ballet Idaho in Boise.
“We did the long-distance thing for three years,” Lowenstein says.
“I really don’t like talking on the phone very much, but we talked every single day and Skyped,” Kish says. “It wasn’t until last year, when Jake was offered a job here, that we actually got to stay together.
“Now that we’re actually together, we’re so excited every day. The only thing we do separately is we teach at night at different schools. We feel so grateful to get to spend so much time together.”
Lately, much of that time together has been in rehearsal. Both say that their offstage relationship benefits them onstage, allowing them to push each other and take risks.
“When you’re partnering with somebody, you don’t really tell them exactly what you’re thinking if they make a mistake,” Lowenstein says, “but with us, we can be a little more open and honest with each other.
“If I’m doing something wrong or I’m not working hard enough, she’ll absolutely call me out on that. It’s nice to be able to be completely honest about what you think and feel about what just happened.”
Kish says, “We don’t have to tiptoe around each other. It does make the process a lot easier, and we’ve been able to accomplish a lot more since we are together.”
Lowenstein says the ballet is unique because the material is as emotionally challenging as it is physically arduous.
“There’s so much story,” Lowenstein says. “You can go from pantomiming a whole scene to right into doing this big dance to right back into acting again.”
Both say meeting the ballet’s emotional demands are easier because of their relationship.
“There’s a lot of times in the ballet world where it’s difficult,” Lowenstein says. “You’re supposed to be convincing the audience that you are madly in love with this person, who is just someone you work with. But when it’s real, it’s just so easy.”
Kish says, “I don’t have to imagine,”particularly the excruciating moment when Juliet discovers that Romeo has committed suicide.
After going through the whole ballet to the very end, I’m feeling close to what I feel if I actually were to find him, so it’s extremely draining afterwards.”
Unlike the onstage characters, who meet a tragic demise, the couple are planning an adventurous, non-traditional wedding in summer 2017.
“We both have a strong desire to travel, so we’ve decided to spend a month in Europe,” Kish says. They hope to get married during their trip, but they’re open to how that evolves. “We’re hoping to make it to 10 different countries, and we’re just sort of hoping to find some witnesses.”
Both acknowledge that they are lucky that their story gets a happy ending.
“We were apart from so long, we didn’t know if we were going to be able it make it work,” Kish says. “It’s hard to get a job in the same city, let alone the same company.”
“Not very many people get to do what they love every day,” Kish says. “We get to do it together. So I’m doing what I love with the person I love.”
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer and critic.
If You Go
‘Romeo & Juliet’
What: Ballet based on William Shakespeare’s play, presented by the Lexington Ballet
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 13, 2 p.m. Feb. 14
Where: Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short St.
Tickets: $30.75-$40.75 general public, $20.75-$36.75 students, seniors adults and military