Around Orlando: A Chat with Orlando Ballet’s Executive Director Shane Jewell

On Wednesday, you got to know a little about the Artistic Director of Orlando Ballet, Mr. Robert Hill. Today, please get to know the Executive Director of Orlando Ballet, Shane Jewell. 

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Mr. Jewell. Image from the Orlando Ballet website, featuring a smashing bowtie! 

Jen Bradley: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, first of all!

Shane Jewell: My pleasure.

JB: Let’s jump right in. You came to Orlando from Oklahoma City and have a degree in Film Theory. How did you come to be involved with ballet?

SJ: Well I’ve been involved in the arts my entire life and in musical theater, went to college on a musical theater scholarship. Then decided I wanted a more marketable degree so I went for film theory. After college I worked for this one company that presented national touring Broadway shows for tent cities in the Midwest, and I became Executive Director of a Classical Music Festival and then Executive Director of Oklahoma City Ballet. As someone who’s on the business side, going to the ballet I fell in love. It’s one of the few performing arts organizations where your performers and talent is in the studio Monday through Friday, just as I or you are. You take them into the office and go sit in on rehearsals and be close to the art they’ve created. Most times, even with regional theaters with rehearsals or tours or concerts, the artist comes in, they perform and they leave. You don’t get to know them or know their stories, watch them create this beautiful piece. So I really fell in love with being able to observe the process.

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A Visit With the Orlando Ballet

Last Friday, Jen and Achariya visited the Orlando Ballet’s rehearsal space to observe the company practicing for their upcoming performance of Romeo and Juliet. We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to speak with Artistic Director Robert Hill and principal dancer Chiaki Yasukawa.  Achariya has a background in ballet, having danced ballet and modern. For her, it felt like a homecoming. For Jen, it was exploring an entirely new country. (Neither Jen nor Achariya received compensation for this blog post, but we are grateful to Orlando Ballet for giving two curious writers their time.)

Romeo and Juliet is playing at Dr. Phillips to live music from the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra on February 9 (8 PM), 10 (8 PM), and 11 (2 PM).

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Orlando Ballet production of Romeo and Juliet (2014) – Photo by Michael Cairns

When we sat down with Chiaki Yasukawa, 17-year veteran of the Orlando Ballet, and Artistic Director Robert Hill, we weren’t quite sure how the conversation would go. Would we stick to ballet, or even this specific ballet? Would we go deep into Ms. Yasukawa’s history, or Mr. Hill’s previous experience? The answer was — yes. Our chat was wide-reaching, spanning this production of Romeo and Juliet, Orlando culture, ballets that Mr. Hill and Ms. Yasukawa have done, ballets that they wanted to do, and how dance can help us process this moment in US history.

The rehearsal that we were there to observe was Romeo and Juliet, Robert Hill’s original choreography to Prokofiev’s music, first performed by the Orlando Ballet four years ago. It is also, we learned, one of Yasukawa’s favorite roles — and the one that she is pleased will be her last as a principal dancer with the company. She loves the role because of the texture it gives her as a dancer — emotions vary between joy and grief, and in one notable pas de deux, Yasukawa has to master a range of emotions as she dances out ambivalence.

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