Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet is generally thought of as a tale of love. Appropriately, both Ballet San Antonio and Opera San Antonio have scheduled their versions of the production for the Valentine’s Day weekend.

However, the tale begins with a fight, and might be more akin to a Hatfield and McCoy-style family feud, as fight choreographer J. Steven White points out. “Conflict is very strong in this story,” White said during an interview at the Ballet San Antonio dance studio.

The company brought White in to train its dancers in the finer points of sword fighting in order to act out the 16 fights interspersed throughout the choreography of Edwaard Liang.

Liang, currently the artistic director of the BalletMet in Columbus, Ohio, collaborated with White to bring their first production of Romeo and Juliet to the Tulsa Ballet in 2012. Of the frequent hand-to-hand combat choreographed along with the Prokofiev score, “we wanted to stay as real as possible and integrate the classical medium of dance within it,” Liang said.

In those 16 fights, the dancers will clash swords at least 500 times, White said, and the music does not slow down. “The speed of the combat is fast and furious and exhilarating,” Liang said. “Not only for the artist, but for the audience.”

Dancer Alec Roth, who plays Tybalt Capulet, and soloist Michael Agudelo, in the role of Romeo’s friend Mercutio, both use two swords at once in their tense fight scene. Dual weapons was a common technique in Elizabethan times, White said.

Agudelo had already trained in fencing, and added spectacular flourishes to his moves during a recent rehearsal, but some dancers had never held a sword before. “It’s my job to come in and make sure that number one, they’re safe,” White said, as the sword points fly through the air during complicated ballet moves. “And number two, that they have the ability to tell the story.”

The romance at the heart of Romeo and Juliet will remain intact amid the rancorous swordplay, and the “star-cross’d lovers” will act out their fatal passions as Shakespeare dictates. But one question will remain open, White said.

“It’s so interesting, because people don’t really know what the age-old conflict is between the Montagues and the Capulets,” he said of the famous feuding families.

Ballet San Antonio’s performances of Romeo and Juliet will take place Feb. 14-16 at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Ticket information is available here. Opera San Antonio and the Agarita string quartet will join forces for the Opera’s first mid-season concert opera, The Capulets and Montagues, Feb. 13 and 15 at the University of the Incarnate Word Luella Bennack Music Center.

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with an indie rock...

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