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A love story for Valentine's Day

Imagine a Shakespeare story unfolding without words. Romeo and Juliet conveying their emotions solely through movement as they realize the depth of their love for each other. The intrigue caused by misunderstandings and the clash of intentions with diverse motives, as well as the Montague and Capulet families reconciling, all expressed through carefully choreographed movement.

The performers act, yes. But they go beyond pantomime. They convey their story through the classic techniques of ballet.

Look for all this and more at the performance of Eugene Ballet’s “Romeo & Juliet,” presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14, at the Craterian Theatre at the Collier Center for the Performing Arts, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford.

Choreographer Toni Pimble’s version of the classic story was influenced, according to a company press release, “by its depiction of tragedy injected with moments of humor, playfulness, and unbelievable drama,” as well as “the 1968 film by Franco Zefferilli.

“He made the raw feelings of these characters very defined, which is crucial in a ballet as we don’t typically have spoken words to aid us on stage,” Pimble said in the release.

“I think this show is special because it’s one of Shakespeare’s great tragedies,” Pimble said. “The combination of the dancing, emotion, the color, the fight scenes, everything is really worth experiencing as an audience member.”

The experience includes more than 30 performers who use more than 100 costumes for the varied settings of the ballet’s 11 scenes. The costumes, designed by Pimble, Lynn Bowers, and Jonna Hayden, are adapted from traditional attire worn by various classes of people during the Italian Renaissance and English Elizabethan period.

According to Eugene Ballet’s website, Pimble, who was born in England and began her professional career in Germany, co-founded the Eugene Ballet in 1978 with Riley Grannan. She has created more than 60 works for the company, garnering a number of awards and fellowships along the way, including two Oregon Arts Commission Artist Fellowship Awards and a prestigious National Endowment for the Arts Choreographer’s Fellowship Grant.

Eugene Ballet has performed “Romeo & Juliet” a number of times since Pimble first choreographed it in 1984. But if you saw any of the early performances, the one at the Craterian will be a little different. According to Kylie Keppler, public relations director, the company now has many more dancers than at the time of the first performance, and Pimble believes that choreography needs to evolve over time.

Christopher Villa choreographed the production’s two complex fight scenes, and dancers were specially trained by fencing master William Mark Hulings, a Eugene resident who is a member of the Society of American Fight Directors.

Musical accompaniment, recorded for the Medford performance, was originally composed by Sergei Prokofiev in 1935. Described as intense on many levels, the score “will tear your heart out,” says Grannan in a 2002 University of Oregon newspaper article.

Making the production particularly relevant for its love story and the Craterian presentation on Valentine’s Day are its leading dancers who perform the roles of Romeo and Juliet. Hirofumi Kitazume and Yuki Beppu are, in real life, husband and wife.

According to company biographies, following initial studies at different schools in their homes in Japan, Beppu went on to train in Switzerland and Kitazume in London. They returned to perform in Japan, where they each won awards in ballet competitions. They then relocated to the U.S. to join Atlantic City Ballet and Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida before becoming members of Eugene Ballet four seasons ago.

In personal correspondence, Beppu and Kitazume write of how they first danced together six years ago with a company in Japan, and have now been married four years. Over the course of their performing they had each dreamed of dancing the roles they will perform in Medford, and they say their marriage has enriched their dancing. Kitazume tells of the energy he gets from his wife on stage; she says that he makes it possible for her to dance more freely. She is not afraid of small mistakes — he knows her so well that he is able to help her adjust and recover seamlessly.

“Her eyes speak to me,” Kitazume says. “It’s just like magic!”

Although you may not be able to see the language of their eyes from the audience, watch for the impact of their personal love story on the one they portray.

Tickets are $38, $35, and $32 for adults, and $28, $25, and $22 for students. They are available on line at craterian.ticketforce.com, or by phone or in person at the box office, 541-779-3000, 16 S. Bartlett, Medford.

While the story of Romeo and Juliet is complex, Keppler feels the audience for the ballet version is easily drawn in.

“For some ballets, I find myself having to focus to follow the story and understand what is happening, but from the first scene of ‘Romeo & Juliet,’ wherein a large fight occurs, to the finale in the tomb, this ballet is perfect for everyone with or without previous dance knowledge.”

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