When William Shakespeare wrote one of his most famous plays, Romeo and Juliet, nearly 420 years ago, he probably never imagined the tortured lovers would rise from the grave to rekindle their romance, yet that’s exactly what the Los Angeles–based Leigh Purtill Ballet Company imagines in its debut ballet, Sweet Sorrow: A Zombie Ballet.
The campy premise is executed beautifully in a creepy display of artistry, yet without taking itself too seriously. Sweet Sorrow does an amazing job of balancing quality performances and production integrity with the fun and frivolity of Halloween. Writer, director, and choreographer Leigh Purtill has been developing the ballet for eight years and is hopeful it will “do for Halloween what The Nutcracker has done for Christmas” and become a beloved annual tradition.
Shakespeare and Halloween naturally go hand in hand. Death is a consistent theme throughout the Bard’s work, which is sprinkled with macabre and supernatural characters. “Who wouldn’t love a ballet that opens with a funeral and is danced by witches, vampires, and lost souls?” quips Purtill.
Purtill’s troupe is a newly formed nonprofit amateur ballet company for adults, which has a goal of making ballet accessible to audiences who might not normally seek out the classical art form. It also aims to provide performance opportunities for dancers of all ages and abilities, and troupe members currently range from their early 20s to 70s.
“It’s my goal to make ballet as inclusive as possible and that means putting dancers on stage who don’t fit the mold of the perfect ballerina, whether it’s age, gender, shape, cultural background, or sexuality,” says Purtill. This sentiment is reinforced by the fact that romantic leads, Bill Reiss (Romeo) and Rachel Swetnam (Juliet), both happen to be out and proud members of the LGBT community.
The full-length version of Sweet Sorrow makes its debut this October, while a short version received some critical acclaim after performances at ScareLA’s Halloween convention for the last two years, as well as a winning performance on the new Gong Show this past June.
If you’re in the L.A. area, you can experience Sweet Sorrow: A Zombie Ballet for yourself this October. For more info, visit ZombieBallet.com.