Weekly Wire
Tucson Weekly Lucky Stars

By Margaret Regan

MARCH 29, 1999:  QISHENG ZHANG LOVES dancing Romeo to his wife's Juliet. "When we dance together we have a lot of feelings that come out," Zhang reported last week by telephone from the couple's Phoenix home. "It's a good feeling, especially in our first pas de deux when the tragedy has not yet happened."

Zhang and his wife, Yen-Li Chen-Zhang, play the star-crossed lovers in Ballet Arizona's production of Romeo and Juliet this Saturday night at Centennial Hall, just as they did when the company brought the ballet to the TCC Music Hall three years ago.

The contrast between the Zhangs' domestic happiness and the Shakespearean tragedy is hard to miss. Their baby daughter Emily, 14 months, babbled in the background while her father talked on the phone, and the husband frequently consulted with his wife in answering questions about their personal story. The pair met in the United States but both are originally from Asia--Zhang from China, and Chen-Zhang from Taiwan. Both trained in their home countries under a system that puts talented kids into special arts academies by the age of 12, Zhang said.

"We did a half-day of dance and a half-day of regular school," he explained. "I was trained as a traditional Chinese dancer. But once I came to America, the opportunities here were in modern dance and ballet. I chose ballet."

Zhang studied at the Southwest Ballet Center in Fort Worth, where he met his future wife. The couple danced briefly with the Eugene Ballet, before coming seven seasons ago to Ballet Arizona, where they've developed into some of the company's most fluid dancers.

"We're very lucky to be able to be in the same company," he said. "And we like it here."

Based on the familiar tale of heartbreak among warring Italian families, Romeo and Juliet is set to a 1935 score by Sergei Prokofiev. The company's artistic director, Michael Uthoff, first choreographed this version in 1980 when he was with the Hartford Ballet. Most people mistakenly place the ballet among the 19th century war-horses, Uthoff said, but it really dates back only to the 1940s, when Russian ballerina Galina Ulanova danced an influential version.

Uthoff dances the part of Juliet's father, Lord Capulet, and Paris is played by Andrew Needhammer, who alternated the part of Romeo with Zhang in last weekend's quintet of shows in Phoenix. The cast of 35 dancers is decked out in Renaissance velvet, though in the final scene the doomed lovers are memorably dressed in austere white.

"My wife and I like the romantic ballets," Zhang said. "Certainly Romeo and Juliet is one of our favorites. The music is beautiful. And it's different performing with your wife. There's more passion."

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