When Dancers Become Actors: Boston Ballet Principals Talk Romeo & Juliet

 Lasha Khozashvili and Seo Hye Han rehearsing John Cranko's  Romeo & Juliet;  photo by Brooke Trisolini, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Lasha Khozashvili and Seo Hye Han rehearsing John Cranko's Romeo & Juliet; photo by Brooke Trisolini, courtesy of Boston Ballet


Sometimes when dancers take the stage, choreography is the least of their worries. Take John Cranko’s Romeo & Juliet—acting, the dancers say, is the key. Boston Ballet Principals Seo Hye Han and Lasha Khozashvili have been perfecting not only their technique, but the emotion in the ballet of William Shakespeare’s classic romance for months. Together, Ms. Han and Mr. Khozashvili will take the stage as Juliet and Romeo later this month.

After rehearsing their three pas de deux with stager Jane Bourne, the couple sat down with The Boston Dance Journal for a (very late) lunch break and a conversation about what it takes to dance this demanding ballet.

Boston Dance Journal: Have you danced these roles before?

Seo Hye Han: No, this is my first time, and this was my dream role. It is really special.

Lasha Khozashvili: This production (by John Cranko) I have danced two or three times, but I have done Romeo in a different production before Boston Ballet, so I’m familiar with the role.

BDJ: What’s it like learning this part for the first time, Seo Hye?

SH: Romeo & Juliet is all about acting, so I’m learning how I can show true acting, not just faking it. It’s very challenging. If you fake it, the audiences is going to know that, so I have to be really into the emotion. Sometimes it’s harder to dance and act together because you get too emotional and then sometimes you lose it.

BDJ: You seemed very much in the moment in rehearsal—how do you get into that mood?

SH: I just don’t think, I just go for it. If you calculate, you ruin everything. You just have to let it go and feel the music.

BDJ: What do you think about dancing John Cranko’s work?

SH: It’s very organized and very musical. I think that’s how I can be so into it right away, because the dancing and the music are so together. So as soon as you hear the music, you can just get in there. I think he’s a genius.

LK: I love everything of Cranko’s I’ve done, and I hope to do more of his ballets because there is so much to tell. Every single step has a meaning… I want to read his mind for a second, how incredibly he sees not just one person, but the couple. He puts the story in choreography so perfectly. There is no limit to my desire; it’s never enough of dancing Cranko’s ballets for me.

BDJ: During rehearsal today, I was struck by the connection you two need to have while performing—you’re literally jumping into Lasha’s arms, Seo Hye! How do you build that trust with each other?

 Lasha Khozashvili and Seo Hye Han rehearsing John Cranko's  Romeo & Juliet;  photo by Brooke Trisolini, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Lasha Khozashvili and Seo Hye Han rehearsing John Cranko's Romeo & Juliet; photo by Brooke Trisolini, courtesy of Boston Ballet

SH: From the beginning I had trust. Jane always says not to try and help him, and just to trust him. So I try to let go and let him do what he wants, and it works better.

LK: Trust is always the key to making good progress in any ballet, especially in this one because there is so much to tell beyond technique. There is so much technique involved, but technique is useless unless you show what this love story is really about. So, trust is the first step, and then everything else comes after—detail, technical details, eye contact, touch, everything. Every single detail is important in this ballet, and I’m super happy that I’m having this wonderful lady right here, and she’s doing amazing.

BDJ: Seo Hye, tell me about that difficult solo in the bedroom scene.

SH: There are so many turns. That is a skill, so if you make a little mistake during the turns, you get over the emotion and that’s not good. I just want to be perfect for the skills so that I can be a really believable Juliet. It’s really tricky.

BDJ: Seo Hye, you mentioned earlier that music is very important in this ballet. I read a quote by violinist Lisa Batiashvili, who said, “My favorite thing about Prokofiev is his delicacy in music and his endless capacity to describe characters in music.” Tell me about the experience of dancing to music by Sergei Prokofiev.

LK: I don’t know if there is a more perfect match with the story itself and the music—I feel like they were created for each other… I feel like the composer and the choreographer met each other and created this together. Prokofiev’s music is hypnotizing, it draws you in, there’s no escape.

SH: As a dancer, his music is really powerful. Sometimes you have to calm down because if you dance very powerful like the music, it gets too rough. It’s very hard music for me. The dying scene from Act III, the music is so strong, so if you dance too emotionally, it gets too dramatic.

LK: This has to do with the acting skills because Seo Hye is right, if you just let it go, literally how you feel, you’re going to go crazy. That’s where we have to control it visually. I remember when it was my first time dancing Romeo, I almost screamed onstage, I could feel myself starting to scream and I had to control myself. It’s temping. When you’re going into this role and you start losing yourself for a second, you have to be in control.

BDJ: Is Romeo and Juliet a true love story, or is it just two crazy teenagers?

SH: If I was watching the news and I heard that story from the news, I would think it’s crazy and ridiculous. But looking back to think about, if I was in the circumstances when I was 15 or 16, I think I would do the same thing. It depends on what you really feel—I think it’s a really passionate love story, I love it so much.

LK: Who knows? If you think in the other perspective, what would you do for love? Are you ready to die for love? I think it has to do with how romantic you are. Someone might be like, “Whatever, that’s stupid.” Maybe it’s because you’ve never experienced something like that. For me, it’s touching, it’s emotional. I would say it is beautiful.

See Boston Ballet perform John Cranko’s Romeo & Juliet at the Boston Opera House, March 15–April 8. Buy tickets >>