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Ballet West brings grandeur and opulence to the stage with "Romeo and Juliet." The pinnacle of love and tragedy, the classic story by William Shakespeare has seen many renditions, but in the world of ballet, it is John Cranko's version that speaks to the magnitude of the story's paramount reputation.

Cranko's "Romeo and Juliet" premiered at the Stuttgart Ballet in 1962. Since its debut, the production has been performed around the globe, but in the Unites States, it is only licensed to four ballet companies. The first American company to perform Cranko's version of the Shakespeare tragedy was Joffrey Ballet in 1985 — Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute performed in that premiere. His love for the production inspired him to bring it to the Capitol Theatre in time for Valentine's Day.

For Sklute, the Utah premiere of Cranko's "Romeo and Juliet" is a chance for the company to truly showcase itself.

"The scale and scope of the production really speak to where we are as a company right now," he said. "This is considered one of the world's leading productions of 'Romeo and Juliet' and, subsequently, I feel like we are growing into one of America's leading ballet companies."

The production, which features three acts, 75 cast members, 250 costumes and a 50-piece orchestra, required Ballet West to call on members of its academy and the community to complete the roster. "Romeo and Juliet" will showcase four couples dancing the title roles. Opening night on Friday, Feb. 12, features real-life couple Beckanne Sisk (principal artist) and Chase O'Connell (soloist) dancing as the star-crossed lovers. Sayaka Ohtaki (first soloist) and Rex Tilton (principal artist) dance the lead for the production's closing night on Feb. 20.

Katie Critchlow (demi-soloist) — accompanied by Alexander MacFarlan (demi-soloist) — will also dance the role of Juliet throughout the ballet's run. Critchlow has danced lead roles in "The Nutcracker," but her turn as Juliet will be her biggest role to date.

"It's a huge deal for anybody to get an opportunity like this," said Critchlow, who —along with Sisk, Ohtaki and Arolyn Williams (principal artist) — was approved by the Cranko estate to dance the title role.

"The audition process for this particular one is very complicated because the ballet comes from Germany from the Stuttgart Ballet. Very few companies are allowed to perform it," said Sklute.

With nearly two decades of dancing under her belt, Critchlow has seen various productions of "Romeo and Juliet." To prepare for her role, she read the play and sought to showcase characteristics of Juliet that she identifies as the most appealing.

"I have always been in love with this part — with this girl. She is so human. She's probably the most human of all the female leads in ballet," said Critchlow. "She is a little bit childish in ways, but the beauty is that she is experiencing all of this for the first time. You can see it develop through the choreography."

Dancing Juliet in Cranko's production involved what Critchlow referred to as "tricky partnering," which audience members will find resembles acrobatics and emotional pas de deux.

"There's an incredible degree of finesse of things that will look really easy but are incredibly hard to get," said Critchlow. "All of it is acting, so I think people will definitely relate to the story through the choreography."

Sklute said the ability for his dancers to so successfully evoke the major themes of Shakespeare's work — such as love and tragedy — starts with the choreography.

"One of the things that is so great about John Cranko and his choreography is indeed how good of a dramaturg he is and how clearly he can translate Shakespeare's text into a ballet: It is a reproduction and a dance version of Shakespeare's great play."

In preparation for the performance, Ballet West dancers worked with a stage combat expert to learn how to safely use swords for an elaborate marketplace fight scene that takes place in the production.

"It is big, grand scale and opulent," said Sklute. "But for as big and grand scale and opulent as it is, there is an intimacy and humanness about all the characters. These are things that I think make it a spectacular performance." —

'Romeo and Juliet'

Ballet West presents choreographer John Cranko's famed version of "Romeo and Juliet." Set to music by Sergei Prokofiev, the ballet features lavish sets, a full orchestra and a cast of 75.

When • Feb. 12-13 and 18-20, 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 14 and 17, 7 p.m.; with 2 p.m. matinees Feb. 13-14 and 20

Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $20-$97; artsaltlake.org or 801-869-6920

Masquerade party • For the final dress rehearsal Thursday, Ballet West will host a Masquerade Party at 6:30 p.m. Tickets include appetizers, craft beer and a chance to watch the first act of "Romeo and Juliet," followed by a sword-fighting demonstration and after-party; $45-$65; information at balletwest.org

Warm Ups • Members of the artistic staff host discussions one hour before each performance. Get information on the evening's program including background on the ballet, choreographer and other behind-the-scenes facts. Included with admission.

By the numbers

Here are a few more stats, according to Ballet West, from the lavish production:

6 • Number of mandolins that will be used in the 50-piece orchestra to add an Italianate sound.

1,903 • Number of miles the rented set traveled from its home with The National Ballet of Canada in Toronto.

5 • Number of semi-trucks needed to transport the sets, props and costumes to Salt Lake City.

250 • Number of costumes, including several changes for Juliet, the Duke and Mercutio.

14 • Number of swords that will be used; the company brought in a stage combat expert to instruct dancers on how to safely use the implements.

100-plus • Pieces of prop fruit and vegetables used for a marketplace fight scene.

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