Alumni modernizes ‘Romeo and Juliet’ ballet, inspires dancers

Taneeka Hansen

This April, the tragic tale of Romeo and Juliet returns to Whitman College, this time as a ballet choreographed by alumni Nate Freeman.

Freeman, who is now studying law at Yale, began dancing during his time at Whitman. He spent two summers in Perugia, Italy with Whitman Dance Instructor Ida Hutson-Fish. It was during his second summer in Perugia that Freeman saw the “Romeo and Juliet” production that inspired his own.

Rehearsal of the upcoming dance production of Romeo and Juliet. Photo featuring Craig Allen as Tybalt and Galen McIsaac-Davidson as Mercutio. Photo Credit: Brandon Fennell

“[Ida and I] saw a production [of ‘Romeo and Juliet’] that opened with the same opening music, and it was really cool, and we were both really struck by it, and then the rest of the production was really bad,” said Freeman. “They didn’t really do ‘Romeo and Juliet’ after that, it was just dance numbers.”

For his interpretation, Freeman spent time looking through the script, and many of the scenes were inspired by specific lines in the play. Freeman choreographed his show between January and April of his senior year, when it was first performed. Part of his work was finding a score for the ballet. A large portion comes from the Baz Luhrmann film “Romeo + Juliet”, whose stylized conception inspired many aspects of the play.

“That kind of style of modernizing and yet having a classical feel all at the same time was a big inspiration behind [the dance production],” said Freeman.

“It’s very different kind of conception of a lot of the characters,” said senior Monica Finney, who plays Lady Capulet. “A lot of the adult characters … are really over-exaggerated, modernized caricatures.”

Finney, who has participated in two other ballets at Whitman, felt this production diverged from previous productions because of the wide variety of dance and music used.

“It has a lot more of a jazzy, kind of dance team style to it,” said Finney.

Freeman wanted to allow the individual styles of the dancers to come out. The music and choreography not only allows for a variety of dance, but also provides flexibility for less experienced dancers. First-year Florence LeBas, who auditioned after her first semester of beginning ballet with Ida Hutson-Fish, described the production as a positive experience despite the rigorous 10 days spent working while Freeman was in town.

“Dance has always been something that’s been a fear in a way, and I feel [that] by doing a production I’ve realized I can break through that,” said LeBas. “It’s okay that I’m not good, as long as I’m working on it. Because before I’ve always been like, ‘oh, I’m just not good at dancing.’ But now it’s very different.”

Like LeBas, first-year dancer Galen McIsaac-Davidson found the production process enjoyable.

“It’s been really amazing to see the level of commitment, and just how positive everyone is throughout the whole process, even when it’s all happening in 10 days,” said McIsaac-Davidson.

Although he is new to dance, getting involved was one of his goals for coming to Whitman. McIsaac-Davidson, who plays Mercutio, has a background in gymnastics, which helped him in his fight scenes.

“There’s a culture in ballet that’s so different than [gymnastics],” McIsaac said. “It’s kind of ‘fend for yourself’ and it’s a little bit intense … you have to set your own boundaries in terms of what you can do with your body and what feels right and what doesn’t.”

All three dancers noted that the energy and modern music of the production would appeal to the Whitman audience.

“I think it’s a high energy, fun show; the choreography is awesome. Nate’s a beautiful dancer [and] so is Tillie,” said McIsaac.

Besides “Romeo and Juliet”, the show will include a piece choreographed by instructor Ida Hutson-Fish called “Impressions of Igor”. Finney described the piece as a more lyrical, classical ballet. There will also be two pieces performed by the Coriolis Dance collective: “Lumen” and “Inference”. Coriolis is a professional dance group started in 2008 by Natascha Greenwalt-Murphy and Christin Call. Greenwalt-Murphy is originally from Walla Walla, and she studied with Ida Hutson-Fish.

The production will take place on April 1 and 2 in Cordiner Hall at 8 p.m. Admission is free.