Exclusive Interview With Romeo and Juliet
Alexander Castillo and Chloé Sherman danced their first pas de deux when they were young students at Ballet Academy East. Now, they are playing Shakespeare’s famous “star-crossed lovers” in dP’s thrilling Romeo & Juliet. Old friends, Yorkville Nutcracker alum, and rising professionals at Los Angeles Ballet, the pair was happy to sit down and talk about their roles, past and present.
— An Interview by The New York Times Best Selling Author, and dP Board Member, Sheryl Berk
How long have you been dancing, did you always know you wanted to pursue a career in ballet?
Alex: I have been dancing since I was 13, so 10 years now. I started dancing at BAE. When I first started classes there, it was a very fresh experience, and I didn’t know what would come of it. Then the summer of that year I went to attend Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet’s summer intensive, and after that, I knew it was what I wanted to do with my life.
Chloé: I started dancing at BAE when I was 2 years old, so I’ve been dancing 20 years now. When I was 17, I attended SAB Winter. I always knew I wanted to dance professionally. My mom took me to a performance of The Nutcracker, and from that moment on, I was in love.
What were you like as a young ballet student?
Chloé: I was very dedicated and very serious. Most of the students at my level were much older which forced me to mature very early on.
Alex: I’d probably say I was very driven. I knew I had started at a late age, and at the time there were other boys in the studio at higher levels. I wanted to do everything I could to advance as fast as possible to be able to be at the same level as them.
What was your experience like doing Dances Patrelle’s Yorkville Nutcracker?
Alex: That was the first Nutcracker I danced in. I didn’t even know what The Nutcracker was about until I danced it with the company. I was a party scene kid, a mouse, and my second year I danced as a corps de ballet couple in the Spanish divertissement. It was a lot of fun. For me, the most exciting part was having it be all so new to me, and being part of this big production.
Chloé: My first role in The Yorkville Nutcracker was the Spanish girl in the party scene and a gingerbread. I remember being so excited because everyone told me that when you get cast in Spanish girl the following year they will want you to dance to Mary! To this day, I don’t know if that was a coincidence, but I did dance Mary! Francis was always so encouraging and really knew how to pull the best out of all his dancers.
When did you become professional ballet dancers? Was it a difficult transition from student to pro?
Alex: I became a professional in 2010 with the Los Angeles Ballet. It was a little difficult making the transition from student to professional because you are so used to working the way you do when you are a student. There is a little bit of adjusting that is necessary to let’s say “fit in” as a professional.
Chloé: I joined the Los Angeles Ballet in 2011. Transitioning from student to pro was tricky for me. There is no one to hold your hand and show you what it’s going to be like. As a student, you are nurtured, but when you become a pro you have to figure a lot on your own. Luckily I joined with a very close friend and together we figured out the ins and outs of company life. Alex and I danced together at BAE so when I joined LAB it was comforting to have a friend there.
What does it mean to you to take on the roles of Romeo and Juliet? What do you bring to the characters?
Alex: Oh man, where do I begin? I was just talking to a friend of mine about this whole experience thus far and how exciting this all is. Of course, I was immediately excited to be given this opportunity to dance this great role, and man, am I grateful it found me. This is my first full-length ballet that I will be dancing the lead-in, and I am doing everything in my power to lose myself in these rehearsals. I try to walk into the studio and think as Romeo, not like myself.
Chloé: Honestly, it is a dream role of mine. I am still in awe that every day I get to build my character more and more. I love that when I am in the rehearsal room I am Juliet. This is my first principal full-length role as well, so I want to give it everything I have.
What do you most relate to about your characters? What is the biggest challenge in playing them?
Alex: As corny as this is going to sound, I can probably best relate to Romeo’s playfulness and being a romantic. For me, the hardest part about the role is portraying the feelings Romeo has once all of these negative things start adding up on his plate. The poor guy gets married to the love of his life, but knows he can’t be with her, gets exiled, loses his friend in an attempt to make peace, and has to cope with having killed Juliet’s cousin!
Chloé: I can most relate to Juliet's shyness but also her playful side. What has been most challenging has been relating to the tragedy of the story. Juliet goes through so much at such a young age. The ballet is an emotional rollercoaster.
How would you describe working with Francis Patrelle?
Chloé: Working with Francis has been a great experience. At BAE, he was one of my teachers and I also did his Yorkville Nutcracker. But this is the first time I am working with him as a professional, and there is a lot of mutual respect. He has created a lot of beautiful moments in his Romeo and Juliet that other versions don’t have. What is wonderful about working with Francis is that he is not set on restaging his Romeo & Juliet. He is willing to work with the dancers to make them look the best they can.
Alex: Working with Francis is a great pleasure, and I am so happy to have this experience. Growing up at BAE, Francis was one of my teachers, so to come back now as a professional and work with him is a blast. I get to see him and his work in a whole new light. It’s exciting, and also still a little hard to get used to... I feel all grown up! Hah! His choreography has a very organic sense of flow, and he always is looking to do his best to highlight the dancers he is working with. He is also very good at helping break down the sense of emotion we should be feeling at any given time. However, with that being said, he still gives us absolute freedom in portraying the emotion or character in our own individual way.
What is it like for you two to work together?
Chloé: Working with Alex has been such a joy! We have been friends for a while and I think that connection really shows when we dance together. Alex is an incredible partner. I really can let myself go when I am dancing with him, and that requires a lot of trust. He’s also very patient when we are figuring out the mechanics of a lift. There is nothing better than working with a partner you can trust. It allows each of us to take big risks.
Alex: It’s an absolute blast being able to work with Chloé. We both danced together a lot while we were at BAE, but it’s been a while since we’ve had an opportunity to share the stage. It brings back this nostalgic feeling, but it's very new and exciting at the same time. Chloé is a very big risk-taker, and that shines through her artistry. For me, having her bring that high level of energy really encourages me to bring mine right up there with her. There is nothing better than a partner who can make you feel comfortable and push you to be your best at the same time.
Finally, what advice do you have for young dancers who want to follow in your footsteps?
Alex: I would just say work your hardest. I started ballet late, and I knew that I needed to work extra hard to even have a shot at doing this as a career. If you want it, you fight your hardest.
Chloé: I would say never give up. Work as hard as you can. Never let anyone bring you down. Take every correction and apply it to your dancing.
— Many thanks to Sheryl, Alex, and Chloé for their generous participation
Photos by: © 2014 Rosalie O'Connor Photography