Romeo and Juliet is, hands-down, the world's ultimate love story.
Full of action, drama and romance, it is the best-known work of its legendary author, William Shakespeare. It is also one of his most quoted plays (#whatlightthroughyonderwindowbreaks, anyone?"). But how do you tell the story to this masterpiece of theatre - with no words at all? That is the extraordinary task that Royal New Zealand Ballet dancers Kirby Selchow and Shaun James Kelly, (flatmates, friends and all round lovely people) have been given with this season as dancers in this epic show - and boy, they pull it off!
WHY GO SEE ROMEO AND JULIET?
This new season of Romeo and Juliet (on from 16 August 2017 - 24 September 2017) has everything you'd want in a ballet - and more! A visual feast for the eyes, you'll be boggled by the stunning costumes, ever changing and hyper realistic set and elegant sword-play. But what will really have your jaw drop is the dancing. While I won't spoil your experience by giving too much more away, this truly is one ballet I'd be happy to return to see, again and again. Royal New Zealand Ballet really does make this a MUST SEE!
WHO ARE KIRBY AND SHAUN?
Kirby and Shaun are incredibly talented dancers with the Royal New Zealand Ballet Company. This is their full-time job (one they respectively have worked incredibly hard to get). Kirby, from Australia, joined the RNZB in January 2014, and has performed roles including the lead gypsy girl in Don Quixote, Dear Horizon and Passchendaele, and the Fairies in Liam Scarlett’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Shaun also joined the RNZB in 2014. His highlights to date include Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante, first male soloist in Johan Kobborg’s Les Lutins, the Fiddler in A Christmas Carol, solo in Jiří Kylián Soldier’s Mass, roles in all three works in 2016’s Speed of Light, including William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, and Puck in Liam Scarlett’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a role he subsequently reprised in both Hong Kong and Wellington at the end of 2016.
WHAT ARE KIRBY & SHAUN'S ROLES IN ROMEO AND JULIET?
Kirby plays a harlot, cavorting with Romeo, Benvolio and Mercutio. "I'm also a market lady and one of the women in the Capulet house. You kind of end up learning everything. In small companies, you need to learn a variety of parts so that if someone else drops out, you can take over.
Shaun plays one of the Montagues. "As a guy, we get to fight with the Rapiers (swords). In his other cast role, he dances Mercutio. "That is really fun, to imagine how he would have been! A light hearted yet tragic character because he dies. I love getting to put my own spin on it."
With all this amazing work to their names, it is easy to forget that they are also just two young people in their twenties, living in Wellington and exploring the city, just like me (albeit with much more grace and lightness of foot). So how DID they get all the way to Wellington New Zealand?
HOW DID THEY GET HERE?
Kirby moved from Australia, being born in Perth. She moved to Melbourne when she was 16 to do her training in ballet. She fell in love with dance originally with tap and jazz, having seen a troupe perform at a local mall and begging her mother to let her join because she liked the costumes that they were wearing. "I loved musical theatre, and grew up watching Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Gene Kelly - all those old films!" she remembers. She started taking tap and Jazz lessons from then on.
Kirby was quite old to begin ballet - but once she was in, she was all in. "At 10 and a half my teacher suggested that I do ballet to improve my technique for jazz and tap (tap was my strongest)" she recalls. "I got into ballet part-time and went to a school in Perth where I would do ballet in between lessons. There is a lot of sacrifices when you are in High School for ballet - sometimes I couldn't go to the school camp or something because of ballet. After a time I had to decide which dance to focus on and I chose ballet so I dropped tap and jazz. I eventually got into a full-time ballet school, Australian Ballet School, in Melbourne." She moved on her own to a one bedroom apartment across Australia on her own. "My mum would visit every couple of months," she says. Kirby began to professionalise, working towards being in a company.
Shaun, on the other hand, was born in Perth in Scotland, to a normal non-show-business family. He too, like Kirby, started in tap. "I am the eldest of five children, four younger sisters. Two Some of them used to play professional football, and I chose dancing." One day, an Aunty said she'd take Shaun to one of her friends tap classes. "I loved it. I did a bit of Scottish country dancing and then I auditioned for a full-time dance school in Scotland and I was lucky enough to get in when I was 11. You need to have energy and potential. It teaches you discipline and most boys don't learn that" he says.
After 5 years, Shaun was told by his teachers he should consider auditioning for a full-time vocational school. "I was 17 and I went to English National Ballet School. I performed as a student in the English National Ballet. You do the professional programme, which is a degree in dance and in the final three years you go out into the world and try and find a job as a ballet dancer."
Around the time of his graduating in 2011, Shaun took up a contract with the Tivoli Ballet Theatre in Copenhagen, having been scouted by an ex Principal Dancer of the Royal Danish Ballet. He offered Shaun a contract but he had to leave school and take it immediately. Shaun loved living in Copenhagen, riding everywhere on his bike and compares it to Wellington in its "hipstery, healthy lifestyle".
HOW DID THEY MOVE TO NEW ZEALAND?
The former director of New Zealand Ballet, Ethan Stiefel, came to Kirby's school to watch and teach a class. Afterwards, Kirby went to Cairns for a holiday. On the beach, her phone began to ring and it was Ethan Stiefel, offering her a chance to come to work with the Royal New Zealand Ballet on an apprentice contract. Kirby enthusiastically accepted, with the blessing of her dance school in Australia.
And Shaun? After a 6 week break with his company, Shaun was contemplating his next steps as a dancer and had a friend suggest he consider working with the Royal New Zealand Ballet - with Ethan Stiefel. "I had been to Australia when I was 16 on an exchange and my father would always say he knew I was going to come back to this side of the world. It turned out that the ballet master here had worked with my company's director. So I sent my stuff off and I had my Skype interview in my Pyjamas" Shaun laughs.
HOW DO YOU PERFORM SHAKESPEARE WITH NO WORDS?
"You learn ballet mime at ballet school. It's like sign language" says Kirby. Shaun interjects. "What is that saying? 'A look can say 1000 words?" Kirby interjects back. "Posture is also key too. You could hold yourself in a bold way or timid way."
HOW HARD IS IT TO BE A BALLET DANCER?
"It is a physically demanding job." says Shaun, "But the passion drives you through. We go to work every day to do something we love to do." Injuries can also be tough. "Last year, I suffered from injuries and it was the WORST," says Kirby. "You look at the stage from the audience and go 'That is supposed to be me out there!"
Nothing is far around here. "When I first arrived," says Shaun "I looked at where my apartment was and Google Maps told me that the ballet school was 10 minutes away. I was confused but of course, it was right!" "We both live in Newtown," says Kirby "We can just text our friends and meet in 5 or 10 minutes." Shaun compares it to London. "In London, people are running everywhere, always rushed. People here are strolling around, always relaxed." "Although" Kirby interjects "it can take 5 minutes to get a coffee because everyone is so cruisey! But it is ok because the coffee is great."
Kirby also loves the waterfront and the vibe of Wellington. Shaun loves that you can go for brunch and head to the Mojo St James, seeing the same people everyday. "You can feel connected with people you might not otherwise get to meet!" he says.
WHAT IS THE BEST THING ABOUT BEING A DANCER?
"When I am up on stage, I feel like I am in my own world and no one can touch me. It's an hour and a half is the best. It is my time. I get so emotionally attached to the character and you experience and feel what they feel." Kirby says. "Also, we have so much fun in the company."
Shaun agrees. "You look out into the blackness of nothing in your role," he says "You forget the audience is there." "You step out of yourself and become someone else" explains Kirby. "In Romeo and Juliet, everyone is having to be someone else. "We're very lucky being able to wake up every day, doing what we love to do."