The back studio at Todd Rosenlieb Dance on 325 Granby Street in Downtown Norfolk is scattered with pointe shoes, overstuffed dance bags, sweaty warm-up clothes, and fairy costumes.
The dancers stand—hands on hips—taking corrections and then begin a run of the show among huge, brightly colored flowers. Virginia Ballet Theater is preparing for this weekend’s Shakespeare in Motion concert series, which will be presented Friday and Saturday night at TCC Roper Performing Arts Center in Norfolk.
The concert will feature three pieces of Shakespearean-themed repertory, all choreographed at different times by VBT Artistic Director Ricardo Melendez. Melendez himself will perform the title role in the premiere performance of “Bottom’s Dream,” a Midsummer Night’s Dream take-off that begins with a roguish Puck played by Aileen Braun and moves quickly to the pas de deux between Melendez’s earthy Bottom and Louisa Mejeur’s regal Titania. A fairy party ensues.
The ballet rendering of Hamlet, which Melendez choreographed when he was the artistic director of Ballets de San Juan, couldn’t be more different from the fairy jaunt. The piece is a stark and moody contemporary ballet with a spare set and minimal costumes. The focus is on the emotional interiors of the characters as Hamlet, Gertrude, Ophelia, and the King clutch at each other with fierce, expressionistic partnering to the moody music of Nigel Kennedy.
Melendez’s “Hamlet” features guest artist Omar Nieves, who worked with Melendez in the original cast of the ballet. Nieves is a former principal with Ballets de San Juan and is currently a principal dancer with CoDa21 in Puerto Rico. In the first cast of the piece nearly fifteen years ago, Melendez danced the role of Hamlet, and Nieves was the King.
“To see his take on my Hamlet tells me that he has learned what I was able to teach him back then,” says Melendez.
The third piece on the program, Melendez’s “Sonnets and Rhythms,” is a love and loss story set to verse and Renaissance music.
Melendez, who in addition to his extensive dance resume is a theater veteran and has performed and directed many Shakespeare plays, is passionate about the possibilities of bringing the bard’s language to the medium of dance.
“It takes out the fear of the classical language and transforms the words into a physical language of themes and images,” says Melendez.
He says that the words also inform the physicality of the movements.
“I find myself expressing the steps in sentences rather than in ballet vocabulary. So instead of port de bras from fifth to second position, I say, ‘Welcome the sun.’ Sometimes the body can express things more easily.”
Virginia Ballet Theatre will present Shakespeare in Motion on Friday, February 17, and Saturday, February 18, at 8:00 p.m. at the TCC Roper Performing Arts Center. For tickets and information, visit here.