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Neglia and the BPO

Sergio Neglia and Silvina Vaccarelli in Romeo and Juliet. (photo by Gene Witkowski)

Collaborators blend dance, music, and story to present Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet

The exhilarating combination of live music and drama is something regional ballet audiences in particular are often left only to imagine. Yet, for the second time in one year, Neglia Ballet Artists will offer the Queen City a full-length ballet with live accompaniment by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra when together, along with Shea’s Performing Art Center, they present Romeo and Juliet at Shea’s.

Neglia Ballet and the BPO began their collaboration in 2005 and have produced a successful and critically acclaimed Nutcracker at Shea’s for the last two years. A recurrent production within a single year is significant, according to Neglia Ballet’s executive director, Heidi Halt. “I believe that Neglia is the only local ballet company to do so,” she says. “It has been exciting to see the relationship between our company and BPO grow. We work really well together, not just the productions, but also in the administrative aspects of getting the productions together.”

“It is a great example of how a partnership can work successfully for all involved,” agrees the BPO’s executive director, Dan Hart. “For the BPO, it is a thrill to perform with live ballet; the repertoire for ballet is full of great music and so artistically it is very satisfying. It also exposes the orchestra to an entirely new audience, and collaboration among groups makes us all stronger.”

Hart hopes the organizations can find a way to make this increased involvement a more permanent part of the BPO schedule. “The Nutcracker is one of the greatest works of all time,” he says, “but there are so many more that we want to bring to Buffalo audiences, and in the way they were meant to be heard—with a live orchestra.”

Though Neglia Ballet premiered their Romeo and Juliet in 2008, this marks the first time it will be performed with live music. “There is no comparing a performance with live music to a performance with CD,” says Halt. “The actual sound of the music is so much richer.”

Indeed, the audience and the dancers are more keenly aware of the details of Prokofiev’s score, one of ballet’s most lush and lyrical orchestrations, in a performance with live musicians. “My favorite music is when Juliet has a moment of clarity before her tragic end and at that moment she resolves to do what she has to do. The melody of the bedroom pas de deux, the lovers’ farewell, is repeated but much stronger and somewhat desperate. For me it is the climax of the score,” observes choreographer Sergio Neglia, who is also the production’s Romeo.

Unlike other ballet narratives, which can have sketchy storylines and a variety of musical interpretations, Prokofiev provides a “roadmap” through Shakespeare’s very familiar plot. “The music tells me exactly what needs to happen in Romeo and Juliet,” says Neglia, who like Prokofiev, sticks closely to the original character-driven tragedy. Adds Halt, “Sergio is a great storyteller and is quite remarkable in conveying what he wants. When he demonstrates the character, he is the character.”

Neglia often takes on several of these roles almost simultaneously during his choreographic process, admitting that this can sometimes drive his cast crazy.

Dancer Silvina Vaccarelli, who portrays Juliet, doesn’t seem to mind very much. “His enthusiasm, his way of working, his technique, and his artistic quality bring me great joy each day that we rehearse,” she says. Vaccarelli, a principal dancer with the Colon Theatre, was handpicked by Neglia during a trip to Buenos Aires last spring. Neglia has maintained ties to his homeland and the company where he began as a second-generation Argentinian dancer. He made this particular trip specifically to find a successor for his long-time partner, Sherri Campagni, who is taking time away to have a child. “We met and took a few classes together and worked on a bit of the choreography of Romeo and Juliet,” says Vaccarelli. “It went well so he invited me to dance with him. I was thrilled!”

The heightened emotion and strong, distinct characters in Romeo and Juliet can make the ballet a challenge for some companies. However, explains Halt, who also happens to be Neglia’s wife, “Sergio’s greatest strength as a choreographer is eliciting great performances from each character.” Still, she adds, “We are fortunate to have some very great actors in Buffalo who we are able to draw on for some of the character roles.”

Irish Classical Theatre’s Artistic Director, Vincent O’Neill, who received training in mime by the incomparable Marcel Marceau, plays Lord Capulet. The Nurse is portrayed by actress, former dancer, and frequent Neglia Ballet collaborator Suzanne Evans. The roles of Tybalt and Mercutio will be played by guest dancers Mindaugas Bauzys, a former principal of the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre, and Ilya Burov, a native of Moscow who has danced internationally with companies such as the Russian National Ballet and Ballet Idaho. Both currently perform with Festival Ballet of Providence. “We have worked with both men before and both are fantastic and perfect for the roles,” says Halt.

From the beginning as an innocent, bratty 14-year-old, until the end, when she kills herself for love, Juliet too must display her acting chops. Vaccarelli finds it difficult to choose any one moment in Romeo and Juliet as the most satisfying to dance. Instead she cites as the most personally moving, a turning point after Juliet’s farewell pas de deux when, having resolved to find a way to be with Romeo again, she refuses to marry Paris. “She feels at that moment, and until the end of the ballet, such a range of emotions: sadness, craziness, desperation, fear. Until the end when she decides to kill herself.”

As a choreographer, Neglia is committed to unfolding a passionate retelling through movement. “In every full-length ballet that I have made,” he says, “telling the story in a way that makes sense to the audience and moves the audience is my vision.” It is through their combined contributions for Romeo and Juliet that Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Neglia Ballet Artists, and Shea’s Performing Art Center plan to fulfill this mission and bestow Buffalo audiences with more than they could have imagined.

Neglia Ballet Artists and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by associate conductor, Matthew Kraemer will present Prokofiev’s setting of the Shakespeare classic Romeo and Juliet at Shea’s Performing Art Center on Friday, March 11 at 8pm. For tickets or more information, visit

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