Slideshow: Arts programs ready a week of collaboration

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Photos by Roxana Pop | Staff Photographer

As Chautauqua Institution’s various artistic directors, professionals and students move into next week, it’s apparent they have one man on their mind — Shakespeare.

With several artistic schools and programs coming together to produce the first-of-its-kind Chautauqua inter-arts collaboration, students will spend this next week in rehearsal, gearing up to present The Romeo & Juliet Project, based off Shakespeare’s play.

“It’s a world premiere; it really is, with the bones of all the classics,” said Vivienne Benesch, Chautauqua Theater Company’s artistic director and director of the project, which will premiere Saturday, July 27 in the Amphitheater.

Though Shakespeare’s tragedy is obviously not hitting the stage for the first time, the inter-arts collaboration is like Romeo & Juliet 2.0, infusing every artistic medium that it can get its hands on.

Within this revved-up love story, there is Chautauqua Dance, North Carolina Dance Theatre, Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, Chautauqua Theater Company, Chautauqua Opera Company and the School of Music. Each company is bringing various Romeo & Juliet-inspired aesthetics to the theatrical experiment.

“It’s a uniquely Chautauqua project because there is no place else that has this kind of symbiotic relationship between opera, voice, theater, dance, symphony — there aren’t a lot of places that have all of those artistic components within the same community,” said Jay Lesenger, artistic/general director of Chautauqua Opera Company.

“We have all the tools, all the people, all the talent to do that collaboration with people that are really eager to work together,” said Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, Chautauqua Dance’s artistic director.

The Romeo & Juliet Project has been three years in the making. Benesch said that the success of Amadeus, a collaborative effort between the symphony, theater and voice programs in 2010, served as her inspiration as she and her fellow artistic directors gathered to discuss undertaking an inter-arts initiative.

“It came right at a great moment where the Institution, [Institution President Tom Becker] and the board of trustees proposed a directive to us about finding ways to combine the talents of all the different creative arts departments here,” Benesch said. “It sort of was an immediate no-brainer: Romeo & Juliet, which is a title that everyone from the seventh grade up has an association with.”

From there, Benesch brought her brainchild to a meeting of the Institution’s artistic directors in 2011, and the directors spent last summer brainstorming and storyboarding the layout of the reimagined classic.

The different programs involved must balance the project rehearsals with their own hefty schedules. For example, NCDT is preparing for “An Evening of Pas de Deux,” and the Voice Program is just finishing performances of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

“We all wish that there was 30 hours, 40 hours a day,” Lesenger said. “That would really help us a lot, because we figured out that the impact of this will be about 26 additional hours into the schedule that’s already pretty set. We had to do a lot of juggling to make that happen, but happily so. It’s a good experience for everybody.”

One of the things that artistic directors are excited about is the chance for all of the students to learn from one another.

“That to me makes this entire project already a success,” Benesch said. “The excitement that it’s generated … within all the departments, as well as being able to provide a unique opportunity for all the students involved. Those to me are the crux of it all, that and the fact that hopefully we’re also creating great art.”