BALLET may be a visual feast, but for Scottish Ballet’s conductor Richard Honner, current production Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet is a particular delight for the ears.
"To me it is the best full length narrative ballet," he said.
"The whole of the section after the death of Tibbald and through to the end of the ballet is just the most well written, and in some cases the most beautiful, ballet music written ever.
"It is more dramatic and tells the story more clearly than any of the Tchaikovsky ballets and our choreographer Krzysztof Pastor has cut out large numbers of group dances and so on that litter most narrative ballets, to make an incredibly fast narrative that is more filmic than theatrical."
This leaner take on the story of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers has meant some alterations to Prokofiev’s score, but Honner says nothing intrinsic to the tale has been lost.
"We play the score with the size of orchestra that Prokofiev visualised and I hope that we have joined up the bits satisfactorily in a very smooth way," he said.
For a conductor, Prokovief’s score is great fun and Honner confesses that if he had to conduct just one ballet score for the rest of his life, this would be the one.
"Prokofiev wanted to write a ballet where music represented the text. He didn’t want to take the essence of the play and create a ballet. He wanted to create the balletic equivalent of a play," Honner said, agreeing that the combination of the music, strong storyline and pace makes Romeo and Juliet the perfect introduction to ballet newcomers.
"In this production there’s never a moment when we’re not moving the action along, he said.
"Even when there are 30-odd dancers performing in the stage together, it’s got a purpose within the dramatic structure. All the elements combine to create a really fine piece of theatre."
Conducting for ballet brings its own challenges and rewards, believes Honner, who joined Scottish ballet in 1986 for what he initially believed would be just a short term posting.
"All of ballet is collaborative," Honner said.
"Right from the beginning of a production you are working with the choreographer to produce the music in a way which meets his visual and choreographic need. That might mean you have to do things slightly differently to the way you would if we were performing the music in a concert. If you hear bits of Swan Lake or Nutcracker in a concert, they are often very different speeds from the way you have to perform them for dancing. The challenge is then to make it feel perfectly natural.
"In opera or in a concert as a conductor you are the kingpin. In ballet you are not quite of so much importance. It is important because you have to pace the performance and make sure the dancers are getting the music they want, but that is half the challenge. You get to know your colleagues on the stage really well and get to like working with them and if they trust you, it’s a happy atmosphere."
• Scottish Ballet present Romeo and Juliet at the Empire Theatre, Eden Court from Wednesday 7th to Saturday 10th May at 7.30pm with a Saturday matinee at 2pm.