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Romeo and Juliet are dancing together in a loving embrace.

The Greatest Love Story Ever Told

The greatest love story ever told returns to Leeds Grand Theatre this March. We spoke to Leading Soloist Amber Lewis to find out more about Northern Ballet’s electrifying production of Romeo & Juliet

Written by Amber Lewis and Sophie Beth Jones


Amber Lewis

Tell us about your career so far and how you became a professional ballet dancer?

I started ballet at two-and-a-half-years-old. I have an older sister who was taking ballet classes and, like most younger siblings, I wanted to be with her all the time. Our teacher agreed to include me in the classes and my ballet journey began. At 15, with my parent’s support and a desire to pursue a career in ballet, I left home and began full-time ballet training in Sydney, Australia, before moving to Washington DC a year and a half later to finish my professional training. I spent 11 years as a professional in America before joining Hong Kong Ballet and then Northern Ballet.

Can you describe a day in the life of a dancer at Northern Ballet? 

On a rehearsal day, my day usually begins at 9am. I start in front of my locker in search of the perfect outfit, followed by a warmup before class. At 10am is Company class which typically lasts one hour and 20 minutes. For the next six hours, I will have many different rehearsals for our upcoming production of Romeo & Juliet. This could be a pas de deux rehearsal, a group section from the ballet, solo – really it could be anything the artistic staff may think needs attention. My last rehearsal of the day finishes at 6.30pm and I head home to get some rest before starting it all again the following day.

On a performance day, we start later since we have a show in the evening. However, it starts the same with Company class. Next, a short break before jumping into a dress or technical run-through of the ballet. Usually hair, makeup and costume are on and then, as a Company, we’ll work through the entire ballet, scene-by-scene, and smooth out any details in preparation of the performance. Once rehearsal is finished, there will be a dinner break before curtain up.

A headshot of Amber Lewis.

Amber Lewis. Credit Emily Nuttall.

Northern Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet

Romeo & Juliet is an absolute classic. Can you tell us more about Northern Ballet’s version?

In Massimo Moricone and Christopher Gable CBE’s production there’s quite a few unique elements which the audience can look out for.

Most productions of Romeo & Juliet have some sort of carnival theme. In ours, the families are represented by two different animals – cats for the Capulets and birds for the Montagues. So, you’ll spot them in different masks and headdresses. There’s also a strong theatrical element to this production. We use fake blood and this is not something that is usually done in classical ballet. Unique to this version is the use of the set too. It is the same for the entire performance, it just changes position to make a new scene. Juliet’s room, the market scene, and the crypt are all the same set.

Who do you play in Romeo & Juliet, and can you tell us more about their character?

The main role I’ll be playing this season is Juliet. Although she may appear shy and naive at the beginning of the ballet, once she meets Romeo the true depth of her character is revealed. To defy her family and marry Romeo at only 14 shows how decisive and headstrong she is.

Have you performed Romeo & Juliet before?

Yes, I’ve performed this ballet quite a few times over the years and in different versions. It was 11 years ago this month that I first played Juliet. It’s always special coming back to this ballet.

Amber Lewis and Jonathan Hanks rehearsing Romeo & Juliet in a ballet studio.

Amber Lewis and Jonathan Hanks rehearsing Romeo & Juliet. Credit Sophie Beth Jones.

Amber Lewis and Joseph Taylor looking at each other and laughing. They wear light coloured costumes in front of a cream backdrop at the Romeo & Juliet photoshoot.

Amber Lewis and Joseph Taylor behind the scenes at the Romeo & Juliet photoshoot. Credit Sophie Beth Jones.

Amber Lewis and Jonathan Hanks rehearsing Romeo & Juliet in the studio. Jonathan holds Amber above him while lying on the floor.

Amber Lewis and Jonathan Hanks rehearsing Romeo & Juliet. Credit Sophie Beth Jones.

Performing Shakespeare’s classic tale

What are the best and hardest things about bringing such a classic tale to life in a ballet?

Being Juliet, there’s a process of being vulnerable and letting go on stage which can be quite challenging. As dancers, we like to know our every movement but, in this ballet, it’s not about looking or being perfect, but casting aside those thoughts of what you think ballet ‘should’ look like and moving purely from emotion. This is both the best and hardest thing.

Do you have a favourite moment in the ballet?

A personal favourite is Juliet’s transition from child to woman. This moment happens after the bedroom pas de deux with Romeo in the third act. The next events in the story force Juliet to make hasty and very adult decisions. Her dancing no longer has quick bubbly movements but a slower and almost desperate feel. To perform this is very rewarding.

The most theatrical moment has to be Tybalt’s death. We use rice to represent the rain which falls from above. This technique creates a chaotic and dramatic motion of sound. Then Lady Capulet is completely drenched in Tybalt’s blood and is overcome with grief. The entire scene is jaw-dropping!

What do you like about performing at Leeds Grand Theatre?

I now live in Leeds so performing where I live, and near Northern Ballet’s home at Quarry Hill, is special. I love the theatre here too – it’s stunning! When I perform at Leeds Grand, I love to look out at the audience and soak up every moment.

Amber Lewis and Joseph Taylor standing back to back and leaning their heads on each other. They stand in a studio in their white costumes for Romeo and Juliet.

Amber Lewis and Joseph Taylor in a photoshoot for Romeo & Juliet. Credit Sophie Beth Jones.

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