Feb 14 2019 | Posted in Spotlight

Best Friends Unite on Stage in Romeo & Juliet

Not many friends can say they have shared the stage with RWB Company dancers. This week, RWB School alumni Craig Ramsay and Catherine Wreford-Ledlow can say they have. The two friends, who met while training at the School, will be dancing the roles of Lord and Lady Capulet in Romeo & Juliet. While both Craig and Catherine went on to have very successful Broadway and acting careers after leaving the School, the two never had the opportunity to share the stage together. And while this experience would top any duo’s bucket list, this rings especially true for Craig and Catherine as Catherine is in her sixth year of her six-year brain cancer prognosis.

“The invite to return to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet where my career started brings my career full-circle,” says Catherine. “I couldn’t be more proud to be back with my Royal Winnipeg Ballet family and with my best friend Craig Ramsay!”

Catherine was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She grew up with, and in, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School. There is no debating that Catherine was a standout star throughout her years at the School’s Recreational Division. Her talents warranted a special invite to partake in the Professional Division’s classes and a mentorship by the great Arnold Spohr. Catherine’s exceptional dance training was complemented by her natural gifts of singing and acting, which lead to an impressive Broadway career.

Catherine has not only defied the odds professionally but is currently doing the same medically. Catherine was diagnosed with brain cancer nearly 6 years ago and was given a 2-6-year life expectancy which she has almost reached and is aiming to extend. While battling cancer she has continued to thrive on and off stage.

During his time at the RWB, Craig was also mentored by RWB’s former Artistic Director Arnold Spohr. That relationship, and the artistic influence of Evelyn Hart, inspired not only Craig’s dancing but also his acting and performing career onstage, in film, and TV.

Craig’s professional career started at the Charlottetown Festival where he performed the role of Willy Boulter in Canada’s beloved musical “Anne of Green Gables”. It was the original Canadian cast of the megahit musical “Mamma Mia” that brought Craig into the United States where he performed on Broadway in the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”, directed by David Leveaux, and shared the stage with Alfred Molina, Andrea Martin, Harvey Fierstein, Lea Michelle, and Rosie O’Donnell. Other Broadway/off Broadway and regional highlights include: original Broadway cast of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, choreographed by Gillian Lynne, “On the 20th Century”, playing opposite Jo Anne Worley, “Hair” with Jennifer Hudson and RuPaul, Rocky in “Rocky Horror Picture Show” with NBC Universal, and Rum Tum Tugger in “Cats”. Craig was also in the original cast of Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince’s “Bounce” the musical with MGM treasure Jane Powell.

“This opportunity is bringing my career back home where it all started,” says Craig. “The RWB has had the most influence on my career, not just with dance, but also acting and singing. I have performed on many stages and with many high-profile names, but I absolutely consider this opportunity to perform with the prestigious Royal Winnipeg Ballet as a career highlight.”

Catch Craig and Catherine as Lord and Lady Capulet from February 13-17 at the Centennial Concert Hall. Tickets for Romeo & Juliet start as low as $30, plus taxes and fees, and can be purchased online at www.rwb.org, in person through the RWB Customer Service Office at 380 Graham Avenue or by calling 204-956-2792 or toll free 1-800-667-4792. Groups of ten or more should contact the RWB Customer Service Office for more information on group discounts. Please note that the RWB does not sell tickets through any third-party websites.

Up next: Ballet & the Band

The phrase “in concert” comes full circle in an all-new artistic collaboration between Juno-award winning The Bros. Landreth and up-and-coming choreographer Philippe Larouche. Ballet & the Band, which runs from March 28-30 at the Club Regent Event Centre, marks the first time Canadian roots-rockers have collaborated with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

A new piece by Jera Wolfe, RWB School Professional Division grad, emerging choreographer, and associate artist with Red Sky Performance, will round out the bill for a diverse evening of performances.

Tickets for Ballet & the Band start as low as $30, plus taxes and fees, and can be purchased online at rwb.org, in person through the RWB Customer Service Office at 380 Graham Avenue, or by calling 204-956-2792 or toll free 1-800-667-4792. Groups of ten or more should contact the RWB Customer Service Office for more information on group discounts. Please note that the RWB does not sell tickets through any third-party websites.

RWB School Student Selected as a National YoungArts Foundation Finalist

Every year, the National YoungArts Foundation seeks out artists ages 15-18 from across the United States and gives them monetary awards, mentorship opportunities, and invites them to participate in workshops. Selected through a blind adjudication process conducted by an independent panel of highly accomplished artists, the 2019 winners represent the top 10 percent of applications. Of this year’s 710 winners, some have been awarded for excellence in multiple disciplines at various levels. Altogether, 725 awards have been attributed: 163 have been named Finalists, the organization’s highest honor; 268 are Honorable Mentions and 294 are Merit winners.

The RWB is proud to say that RWB School Professional Division student Bridget Lee was one of those finalists and attended YoungArts Week in Miami, Florida at the beginning of January. She was one of only four ballet dancers to make the finals; the rest include singers, mixed media artists, actors, choreographers, and contemporary dancers.

Past ballet dancers who have made it to the finals are Sarah Lamb – Principal with the Royal Ballet (London) and Connor Walsh – Principal dancer with Houston Ballet. Artists who have been involved with the foundation as mentors include Mikhail Baryshnikov and Placido Domingo, amongst others.

Bridget spent her days with dance finalists and took master classes in disciplines such as modern, contemporary, improv, and hip hop. In the evening, Finalists gathered to watch one another perform or view their artforms. Bridget was blown away by how incredible the vocalists were!

She described the entire event as an incredibly encouraging, supportive and respectful of one another’s disciplines. Her primary takeaway was learning a lot about developing her artistry and not just focusing on the technical aspect of ballet.

For more information, visit youngarts.org/yaw. For further reading, please click here and here.

Sharing Dance Returns to Schools and Studios Across Canada

For the fifth year in a row, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School and Canada’s National Ballet School invite the public to participate in Sharing Dance, a nation-wide movement aiming to improve access to quality dance education for the health of all Canadians.

Every Tuesday from February 5-May 28, FREE dance classes will take place at the RWB at 380 Graham Avenue for those aged 8-12 years old. Classes take place from 5 – 6 PM and focus on contemporary / afro fusion genres.

Fun fact: former RWB School artistic faculty Philippe-Alexandre Jacques is one of the chosen choreographers who created this year’s Sharing Dance choreography, which is tethered to the theme of roots and identity.

Advance registration is not required, just drop in!

Sharing Dance classes are in preparation for the nation-wide Sharing Dance Day on May 31. Sharing Dance Day is a public celebration of dance in Canada with a host of live performances leading up to the big finale when participants share this year’s choreography. Stay tuned for more information as the event draws nearer!

To learn more about Sharing Dance, please visit rwb.org/sharingdance, sharingdance.ca, or call the RWB School Office at 204.957.3467.

Greenroom: Real-life Romeo & Juliet Bring Profound Emotion to Roles

The roles of Romeo and Juliet are among the most coveted for professional dancers. The thrill of being cast in these desired roles was made even more cherished for RWB Principal dancer Jo-Ann Sundermeier and RWB Soloist Josh Reynolds as the married couple now get to bring their real-life romance to stage.

The couple, who met while dancing at Smuin Ballet in San Francisco, have been together for almost five years and were married on October 5, 2017. While Josh and Jo-Ann have danced a portion of Romeo & Juliet with the Smuin Ballet, this will be the first time both will dance the full-length Romeo & Juliet with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

How do you both feel about dancing the roles of Romeo and Juliet?
For any dancer, getting the chance to portray the roles of Romeo and Juliet is such a special opportunity. It’s one of those “bucket list” roles that every dancer has. It’s really special for us to be sharing this moment on stage together. We had a “taste” of what it would be like, when we danced the Balcony pas de deux for a mixed repertoire programme while we were both dancing at Smuin Ballet in San Francisco. It’s a wonderful experience now being able to dance these roles in a full-length version!

How does being an off-stage couple help you in your roles of Romeo & Juliet
The fact that we are a couple gives our portrayal an extra special connection. It’s very easy to be in love on stage, when you truly embody those feelings. There’s nothing more rewarding than being out there, on stage with the one you love. It’s difficult to not get extremely emotional, especially in the death scene; when I see Josh laying there, it brings me to tears.

What is most challenging, and most rewarding, about dancing these lead roles?
There are many challenges for the role of Juliet. It takes a lot of stamina to be able to get through all the scenes. For me personally, as this is my first major role coming back from maternity leave, it has been a lot of work to get back into shape to be able to get through the ballet in its entirety.

What couple roles do you hope to dance in the future?
One ballet that both of us would love to dance together is Val Caniparoli’s Lady of the Camellias. It has a stunning pas de deux that both of us really want to do!

Catch Josh and Jo-Ann as Romeo and Juliet on Friday, February 15 at the Centennial Concert Hall. To listen to their interview on CTV News, please click here.