Romeo et Juliette leap into Valentine’s Day

By by Justin Jacobs

Pittsburgh Ballet Theater dancer Alexandra Kochis is a bit of a crier. But it’s hard to keep… Pittsburgh Ballet Theater dancer Alexandra Kochis is a bit of a crier. But it’s hard to keep her cool when she’s dancing through some of the most emotionally draining productions of all time ‘mdash; and this weekend, she’ll tackle one of the biggest of them all: The ballet rewrite of Shakespeare’s classic, titled in French ‘Romeo et Juliette.’ ‘You can see [the piece] time and time again, and it still reduces you to tears,’ said Kochis. ‘Humans like to torture themselves, and this story is just so tragic.’ Luckily, Kochis’ own life has followed a much more upbeat path than that of her character Juliette, albeit just as unexpected. Though she’d been dancing since she was five years old, Kochis never put ballet at the forefront of her life. She attended summer programs as a teenager, but she still had her eyes set squarely on a college education. And a good one at that ‘mdash; Kochis applied and was accepted to Georgetown University. But when she was surprisingly offered an apprenticeship with the Boston Ballet School, she knew she couldn’t pass it up. ‘I thought it was a once in a lifetime chance ‘mdash; and I’m still dancing today. But I really fell into it,’ she said. ‘A dancer’s career is so short that it’s rare one can go to school then dance professionally afterward. I couldn’t let it pass me by. But I still could go back to school today.’ The decision proved a good one ‘mdash; the apprenticeship launched Kochis into the chance to study at such prestigious companies as The Kirov Ballet Academy in Washington DC and the School of American Ballet in New York City before dancing professionally with Boston Ballet, a spot she has held for 11 years. It was in Boston that Kochis met her future husband, fellow dancer Christopher Budzynsk. The two began shopping around for a new locale and, in 2006, both landed jobs dancing in the (slightly) warmer city of Pittsburgh. ‘It did require a bit of luck. But Pittsburgh was a good fit for us ‘- all the stars really aligned,’ said Kochis. The stars have aligned again; Kochis will dance as Juliet, one of her two favorite ballet roles (the other is Adolphe Adam’s ‘Giselle’). For its production of ‘Romeo et Juliette,’ the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater aims to combine storytelling, music and dance for a triple threat of emotional power. And Kochis promised that all three are particularly potent. ‘The scores to this ballet are some of the best ever written. You can sit in your living room and put this on, and you’ll just cry. You’ll get goosebumps,’ said Kochis, referencing the production’s famous score by Russian born Sergei Prokofiev. ‘Combining that with the drama of the story and the emotions are really distilled down to their essense. A simple hand gesture, the way two people stand there looking at each other ‘mdash; it’s very humanistic and natural,’ said Kochis, promising that even ballet novices will feel the impact of the production. Ultimately, ‘Romeo et Juliette’ makes the classic dance right off the page, relayed Kochis. ‘With the play, it takes a little bit of concentration to get through those verses,’ she said. ‘But with the ballet you can see it and just say, ‘Wow.” The themes of the classic play do show up, but just in a different medium, as movement replaces monologue. ‘It’s bad timing, love lost, what could’ve been, contrasting the pure joy and excitement of finding your first love, which is a moment that everyone has,’ said Kochis. ‘The first moment there’s that mutual attraction and just that electricity.’