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World Premiere of Innovative Take on Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet

Frederic Chiu

September 11, 2018

Drexel University’s Westphal College with support from the Rankin Scholarship Fund will present the world premiere of Romeo and Juliet – The Choice, a re-imagining of the popular classical ballet composed by Russian modernist Sergei Prokofiev. This innovative and immersive production is co-created by choreographer and dance faculty, Sandra Parks, and acclaimed pianist and Rankin Scholar in Residence, Frederic Chiu. The performance is part of a broader residency of innovative performance workshops, open rehearsals and scholarly discussions. Romeo and Juliet – The Choice is performed on November 17-18, 2018 in the URBN Center at Drexel University. Reservations are required. Please click here to reserve your seats. To learn more about Romeo and Juliet – The Choice cast and creative team, click here


Romeo and Juliet is a classic Shakespearean play about two star-crossed young lovers from dueling families who tragically take their lives at the conclusion of the play. In 1936, Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev composed the initial draft of a ballet of the title work for piano. In this version, Prokofiev gave the story a “happy ending” where Juliet wakes up before Romeo’s despair leads him to suicide. Prokofiev never orchestrated this ending, choosing instead to adapt his final published orchestra score to the original fate of the lovers in an attempt to placate critics. Romeo and Juliet – The Choice presents audiences with an opportunity to experience either Prokofiev’s original “happy ending” or the more commonly performed version of this beloved score. Audiences will be invited to vote on which ending to be performed, the results of the vote being revealed only when the storyline unfolds. The performance will be presented “in the round” with performers and audience members sharing the same space. For certain crowd scenes, dancers will invite willing audience members to actually participate in the dances. Romeo and Juliet – The Choice takes full advantage of the intimacy and flexibility inherent in the use of the piano to create a truly interactive and innovative experience for this world premiere.


Parks’ and Chiu’s collaboration began after meeting at the International Prokofiev Symposium at Louisiana State University in2016. Chiu suggested presenting Romeo and Juliet as a “house ballet,” a ballet in a small scale in a non-traditional space. Using the Drexel University’s URBN Center lobby instead of a traditional stage performance space, the production offers an intimate and interactive performance where the piano is as much of the centerpiece of the production as the dancers.

With the blessing and approval of the Prokofiev family, Chiu will perform the solo piano version of this famous ballet. This project will also bring together both Philadelphia-based professional dance artists and Drexel University dance students. Chad Ortiz (Nickerson-Rossi Dance) performs the role of Romeo, Harlee Trautman (The Naked Stark) performs the role of Juliet, and Jorge Rullan (Anne-Marie Mulgrew and Dancers) will perform the role of Mercutio. Drexel dance majors Jenna Demar, Caraleigh Stifler, Kylie McCartney and Kemba Daniels will perform as soloists. Nick Jushchyshyn, a visual effects artist and director of Drexel University’s Animation program, will create the performance’s digital images and projection.

Parks shares, “It is exciting to create this ballet with Frederic Chiu as well as collaborating with scholars including Dr. Lloyd Ackert, Kenneth Bingham, Dr. Paula Marantz Cohen, and Dr. Kirsten Kaschock and digital artist, Nick Jushchyshyn on this incredible project. I am looking forward to working with all the dancers from both Drexel University and Philadelphia community.”


The performance of Romeo and Juliet – The Choice fits into a broader residency of open rehearsals, workshops and discussions from November 3rd to November 16th. Rehearsals will be open for students in various disciplines, of both performing arts and humanities programs. Students will witness how a world-class musician approaches the creative process in a collaborative environment. Chiu will also offer a module from his innovative workshop program, Deeper Piano Studies, to students in music, dance and theatre who wish to establish a healthy professional performance career.

To further explore the alternate ending and themes, Drexel scholars of multiple disciplines will engage in a debate prior the performance. Scholars include Dr. Lloyd Ackert of the History Department, Dr. Kirsten Kaschock and Kenneth Bingham of the English Department, and Dr. Paula Marantz Cohen, Dean of the Honors College and Distinguished Professor of English. Dr. Cohen looks forward to this production and exploration, sharing, “Romeo and Juliet is a play that has long inspired many interpretative approaches. Its particular combination of genres—comedy, tragedy, and romance— is perhaps more pronounced than in any other Shakespearean play. Prokofiev’s ballet is an elaboration of this work, translating its sublime poetry into music and movement. The Drexel performance of the ballet will add another layer of richness by engaging the audience in the controversial issue of the ending. This seems very much in the spirit of Shakespeare’s innovative imagination.”

This project celebrates cutting edge performance, while tying in history and literature, to challenge the boundaries of performance, while provide opportunities to discuss and debate one of history’s most famous stories. Parks in recognition of the project shares, “I am so delighted and honored to receive the support from Westphal College Rankin Scholar Fund, Drexel Alumni Relations, Drexel Honors College, Drexel Department of Performing Arts and the Dance Program to bring this innovative new work to our campus and the local community of Philadelphia.”

For more information on Romeo and Juliet – The Choice and the residency, visit the production’s event page. Reserve your seats here.

Frederic Chiu's intriguing piano-playing and teaching springs from a diverse set of experiences and interests: his Asian/American/European background, his musical training, and an early and ongoing exploration of artificial intelligence and human psychology, especially the body-mind-heart connection. With over 25 CDs on the market, his repertoire includes the complete work of Prokofiev as well as popular classics of Chopin, Liszt and others, and lesser known masterpieces of Mendelssohn and Rossini, with a special place for the piano transcription. Many have been singled out, such as "Record of the Year" by Stereo Review, "Top 10 recordings" by the New Yorker, with raves from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Distant Voices, a new recording on the Yamaha Entertainment Group label, released in 2015, is a long-awaited recording of the music of Debussy, along with world premieres of work by Chinese composer Gao Ping. This recording breaks new ground, introducing the first Classical recording to the YEG catalogue. Chiu is also committed to expanding the place of classical music. He has created unusual collaborations with the Shakespearean actor Brian Bedford and psychologist/writer/clown Howard Buten. He worked with the hip-hop artist Socalled in the Messiaen Remix project. He has appeared in numerous films by Ophra Yerushalmi, on the subject of Chopin, Liszt and Debussy. Currently, he is performing with David Gonzalez in the classics Peter and the Wolf and Carnival of the Animals, transcribed for solo piano and narrator. He is also running a multi-year project called Classical Smackdown, in which audiences vote for their favorite composers.


Originally from Taiwan, Sandra Parks danced with Four Seasons Ballet and Wu-I Dance Company in Taipei; toured nationally and internationally with a Broadway production of the King And I. She also danced with Bosoma Dance Company, Dance Collective, and Impulse Dance Company in Boston, MA. Parks has presented work in Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Boston, Miami, Nashville, New Orleans, New York City, in addition to Beijing, China and Taipei, Taiwan. She has created work for professional dance companies including Bosoma, Cangelosi Dance Project, and Of Moving Colors; for university programs including Colleges of the Fenway, Kennesaw State University, and Smith College. Before joining Drexel University, Parks served as a faculty member at Boston University, Bridgewater State College, Colleges of Fenway, Kennesaw State University, Louisiana State University, Smith College, and master classes at National Taiwan University of Arts. In 2013, Parks founded Women in Dance L.L.C. to celebrate and promote female leadership in dance, and she is the director of the international Women in Dance Leadership Conference. Parks holds her B.F.A. from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and her M.F.A. from Smith College, MA.

The Drexel University Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design is dedicated to the education of students in the areas of design, media and the performing and visual arts. The Westphal College offers 17 undergraduate and nine graduate majors, housed in award-winning, technologically-enhanced facilities, and taught by faculty who have worked at the top of their fields. The College values a studio approach that incorporates six months of required co-op work experience for all undergraduate students. The College is home to two theaters, an art gallery, a notable collection of 14,000 historic costumes, a record label, and a television station. Students produce sophisticated work through creative, multi-disciplinary practices, and provide meaningful shared experiences that promote individual and communal growth. Eight of the Westphal programs enjoy national rankings and the College is ranked the fifth best Design and Applied Arts school in the nation. Drexel is a Top 100 University located in the heart of Philadelphia.  


A re-imagined production of the classic ballet

Sandra Parks

Frederic Chiu

Chad Ortiz, Romeo
Harlee Trautman, Juliet
Jorge Rullan, Mercutio
Kemba Daniels, Duchess
Jenna Demar, Tybalt
Kylie McCartney, Friar Laurence
Caraleigh Stifler, Nurse
Kemba Daniels
Jenna Demar
Kylie McCartney
Caraleigh Stifler
Kate Alaine Algarme
Alison Bonasia
Nicole Case
Danielle Nehring
Maddie Gillooley
Kathryn Schweingruber
Corrinne Steele


Saturday, November 17, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, November 18, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.

Drexel University's URBN Center
3501 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104