She glides across the stage to the stirring music, her eyes fixed on her lover with a look of both innocence and passion.
Dancer Paola Hartley makes it look easy, moving en pointe in her toe shoes, twirling and falling into the arms of male dancer Astrit Zejnati.
The pair are rehearsing their principal roles for Ballet Arizona’s first show of the 2005-06 season, "Romeo and Juliet," which opens Thursday. Hartley and Zejnati practice the scene that takes place on Juliet’s balcony, where they first confess their love for each other.
After a series of twists, lifts and spins, the two end in a sensual embrace on their knees, under the watchful eye of Ballet Arizona artistic director Ib Andersen.
He springs from his chair and demonstrates parts of the dance he wants reworked. In a move that involves Zejnati lifting Hartley and carrying her over his shoulder, Andersen explains the flexibility and care he wants worked into the move.
"You’re too much like a moving man, you know, carrying her like this," Andersen says, imitating a mover shouldering a heavy box.
It is these small adjustments that make the show shine, say Hartley and Zejnati. Both applaud their director, who is present in the studio virtually "all the time" and works individually with his artists on a daily basis.
A TIMELESS LOVE STORY
Zejnati and Hartley will alternate in the roles of Romeo and Juliet with fellow company members Michael Cook and Natalia Magnicaballi. Andersen choreographed the ballet, which first premiered in 2003. This year’s performance has been reworked with new costumes and sets, and some changes to the movements. It will be the first Ballet Arizona performance in the newly renovated Phoenix Symphony Hall.
The lead dancers are challenged with the sheer physicality of it, says Zejnati, a three-year Ballet Arizona dancer. "There’s a lot of movement in it . . . there’s a lot of physical interaction," he says.
Hartley, who is in her eighth season with the ballet, adds: "There is a lot of counterbalancing, traveling back and forth, (Zejnati) carrying me in the air, twists and turns."
One of the most difficult scenes is Juliet’s encounter with Romeo at the ball hosted by her family, Hartley says.
"First of all, we’re young. We’re 14 and 16 years old," she says. "We have to portray these two innocent kids that meet and start having these feelings — start feeling things inside that they’ve never felt before."
"You have to explain that to the audience and make it believable."
"It has to be gradual," Zejnati adds. "You have to get into the character of an adolescent. . . . It has to be very real, but it can’t be overdone."
The show includes sword fights between the warring families, the sensual balcony scene and the impassioned death scenes, in which Romeo and Juliet separately commit suicide.
Hartley says no matter how she plans her death and fall, it never turns out exactly how she has visualized it. "What you feel at the moment, at the time, is completely different every single day that you do it," she says.
"What if I’m in a bad mood today? It’s going to affect how I die."
’Romeo and Juliet’ by Ballet Arizona When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday Where: Phoenix Symphony Hall, 225 E. Adams St. Tickets: $10-$102 Information: (602) 381-1096, (480) 784-4444 or www.balletaz.org