01_Act I dress rehearsal

The Dance of Love


Writer Kenneth LaFave
Photos courtesy of Ballet Arizona

Some couples fall in love holding hands at the movies. Some fall in love over candlelight dinners. Jillian Barrell and Nayon Iovino fell in love pretending to be one of the most famous couples in history: Romeo and Juliet.

In 2013, Barrell and Iovino, dancers for Ballet Arizona, were involved with other people. But when they were cast as Shakespeare’s lovers in choreographer Ib Andersen’s “Romeo and Juliet,” sparks began to fly.

“The situation was very complicated, but being lovers onstage definitely helped us fall in love for real,” Barrell says. Iovino echoes, with a smile: “It was the perfect recipe.”

Barrell and Iovino will duplicate their roles this month as Ballet Arizona reprises “Romeo and Juliet” in performances on February 9-12 at Phoenix Symphony Hall, with Prokofiev’s music performed by the Phoenix Symphony.

In the four years since they last danced the roles of star-crossed lovers, Barrell and Iovino have gone through relationship trials, though nothing as serious as those experienced by Mr. Montague and Ms. Capulet.

“We were together, and then we broke up, and now we’re back together,” Barrell explains. Altogether, a much happier ending than that of the characters whose story they will dance onstage.
Brazil-born Iovino began dancing at age 10 under the instruction of Gisela Vaz at Studio Dancarte Brazil. At age 17, he was awarded a full scholarship to begin training with Kee Juan Han and Carlos Valcárcel at the Washington School of Ballet.

In 2009, he joined Houston Ballet II and was featured in Stanton Welch’s “Fingerprints,” “Blue,” “The Long and Winding Road,” “Red Earth” and “Tales of Texas.” In 2010, Iovino joined the Washington Ballet, where he performed soloist roles in Septime Webre’s “The Nutcracker” and “The Great Gatsby,” and in Twyla Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs,” “Push Comes to Shove” and “Surfer at the River Rocks.”

He began his Ballet Arizona tenure in 2012. Since joining the company, Iovino has performed in George Balanchine’s “Rubies” (from “Jewels”) at the Chicago Dancing Festival and Balanchine’s “Serenade” and “Stravinsky Violin Concerto” at Ballet Under the Stars.

Barrell, a proverbial All-American, began her training at Delaware Dance Company and later studied under Sherry Hiott. During the summer, she continued her training at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Orlando Ballet School, Princeton Ballet School, Virginia School of the Arts and the Rock School for Dance Education. She was a finalist in the 2004-05 and 2004-06 Kennedy Center Ballet Class Series, and a soloist for the 2006 Youth America Grand Prix finals in New York City.

Since joining Ballet Arizona in 2007, Barrell has performed soloist roles in Balanchine’s “The Four Temperaments,” “La Sonnambula” and “La Valse,” as well as principal roles in “Apollo,” “Divertimento No. 15” and “Rubies” (from “Jewels”). She originated the title role in Ib Andersen’s “Cinderella” and danced the role of Aurora in “Sleeping Beauty.” She has appeared in Ib Andersen’s original ballet play, “Mosiak,” and the premiere of “Diversions” at the Kennedy Center.

For all their true romance offstage, the pretend romance they must evoke onstage requires technical mastery and artistic focus. It’s not enough for the two to be in love; they must convince an audience, through movement alone, of their every feeling. Each nuance of emotion depends on the sweep of an arm, or the lift of a leg.

“The hardest thing to do is to express with artistry so that no one notices the technique,” Iovino notes. “Sometimes it takes a lot of rehearsal to learn how to communicate certain things with your body, like how to be a 17-year-old in love.”

Barrell points out the need to grasp Juliet’s growth throughout the ballet: “There are technical challenges in Ib’s choreography, but at the same time, there is so much focus on the character that I’d be tempted to say what the character demands is more severe. Juliet goes through such a transformation, and she’s onstage almost the whole time.” The ballet’s tragic ending, she admits, is “draining” to perform night after night.

Did the real-life couple learn anything from the fictional couple’s tragedy?

“Communication” is Barrell’s one-word answer, alluding to Romeo’s fatal failure to learn that Juliet faked her death, which ultimately leads to the couple’s deadly denouement.

“Don’t get involved with family drama,” Iovino adds, prompting Barrell to laugh.

Ballet Arizona’s “Romeo and Juliet” is a visual spectacle with sweeping grand ballrooms, daring sword fights and romantic gardens serving as the backdrop for the classic tragedy you won’t want to miss. Three different pairs of dancers will perform the title roles in the company’s six scheduled performances. Specific details about Barrell and Iovino’s performances can be found on the Ballet Arizona website.


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