Meet the Queer Zombie Shakespeare

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When William Shakespeare wrote one of his most famous plays Romeo and Juliet nearly 420 years ago, he probably never imagined the tortured lovers would rise from the grave to rekindle their romance, yet that’s exactly what the Los Angeles-based Leigh Purtill Ballet Company imagines with its debut ballet, Sweet Sorrow: A Zombie Ballet.

The somewhat campy premise is actually beautifully executed in a creepy display of artistry, yet without ever taking itself too seriously. Sweet Sorrow does an amazing job of balancing quality performances and production integrity with the fun and frivolity of Halloween. Writer, director, and choreographer Leigh Purtill has been developing the ballet for eight years, and is hopeful it will “do for Halloween what The Nutcracker has done for Christmas,” and become a beloved annual tradition.

Shakespeare and Halloween naturally go hand in hand. Death is a consistent theme throughout the Bard’s work, which is sprinkled with macabre and supernatural characters. “Who wouldn’t love a ballet that opens with a funeral and is danced by witches, vampires, and lost souls?” quips Purtill.

Purtill’s troupe (ZombieBallet.com) is a non-profit amateur ballet company for adults, which has a goal of making ballet accessible to audiences who might not normally seek the classical art form. It also aims to provide performance opportunities for dancers of all ages and abilities, who currently range from their early 20s to 70s.

“It’s my goal to make ballet as inclusive as possible and that means putting dancers on stage who don’t fit the mold of the perfect ballerina, whether it’s age, gender, shape, cultural background, or sexuality,” says Purtill.

Not only does the company have several LGBTQ members (including their Romeo) and feature untraditional same-sex dancer pairings in the performances, but they also regularly give back to the community. They’ve recently expanded their community programs to include teaching ballet and zombie costuming and makeup workshops at the Brave Trails Camp for LGBTQ Youth. The Zombie Ballet first caught national attention with a killer performance on the new Gong Show last year, along with their debut full-length live theater performances. Fans can catch one of their live Los Angeles performances this year at the Lanterman Auditorium (in La Cañada Flintridge, Calif.) October 20-21.

They’ll be debuting some fun new characters, like the Raven Queen, a pair of scene-stealing stone gargoyles, and a quartet of Fosse-esque spiders. (ZombieBallet.com

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