Thursday, 13 June 2019

DANCE REVIEW: Romeo And Juliet - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.



Matthew Bourne is synonymous with innovation both in his new pieces and reworkings of old pieces. It was no surprise then that his production of Prokoviev’s 'Romeo And Juliet' was turned on its head. Part of the allure of the story of Romeo and Juliet is indeed that we know what is going to happen – knowing the tragic ending makes the falling in love more sorrowful, watching them dance together makes the journey more poignant. Nevertheless, the audience were kept wondering from the very start – what is going to happen now?!!

From the question and answer session after the ballet, we learnt that the setting – in a sterile, white tiled Verona Institute, was left fairly ambiguous on purpose. Were the youths in a reformatory or a preparatory centre? Or were they in an asylum? The answer to those questions was not important but is an example of how this production kept the audience guessing.

The opening scenes saw the youthful cast in a unison shade of white and much of the dancing in the night was a unison of sorts – there were few instances, also, of gender specific movement which made this production feel very contemporary without trying to be. The unison elements were very effective in getting across a them and us feeling – with the young men and women pitted against their guards and wardens. It also reflected a strong connection between the young people in the institute.

Contemporary dance moves were sometimes loose and flowing and other times rigid and stiff conveying a wide variety of emotive responses to the narrative. Bourne told us afterwards that he had watched video footage of Barron Trump to get inspiration for some of the gestures and movement. He commented that Donald Trump’s son appears to twitch and nod quite a bit, a symptom, possibly, of not knowing how to cope with celebrity parents. This idea is further explored with Romeo who is delivered to the Verona Institue by his parents - Senator Montague and wife -who are followed by an entourage.

There were a few nods to Najinsky’s 'Rite Of Spring' style of choreography which were pure genious. This quotation matched Prokofiev’s 1930s score really well. There were a few nods to Nureyev’s choreography for this ballet as well, particularly in the heart-breaking scene towards the end when Romeo and Juliet dance together – one carrying the dead lover –in imitation of their first dance together.

As the story unfolds, there are moments of shock, of humour and a rapid deep connection between the audience and the residents of the institute. While what happens is clearly portrayed, there is a constant questioning of what will happen next. Indeed when the curtain went down after the first half you are immediately gripped by wanting to know what will happen. This, as I said, is genious – because we already know what will happen, or at least we think we do.

Paris Fitzpatrick as Romeo was fantastically cast. He had a very engaging, loveable and strong character from the start. His dancing was electric – there is a skill in switching from being part of a group in one moment and in the next standing out as the main character. This skill was perfectly subtle with Fitzpatrick. He really made it look very natural, in particular a scene in which he lifts Juliet frequently was almost overlooked by its sheer naturalness. There was great care in every detail of his movement and facial expression.

Juliet, too, played by Cordelia Braithwaite, was given the chance to have a stronger character than simply being the love interest of Romeo and Braithwaite clearly relished this role. I wondered if an opportunity was missed to develop this character even further. We had plenty of interaction between Romeo and other males on an individual level – Mercutio, Balthasar and Benvolio were clearly present, but Juliet did not have a chance to reveal more of her character in the same way. Nevertheless, her storyline was much stronger than customary and Braithwaite certainly delivered right to the very end.

Prokofiev’s score was restructured and rearranged for this performance with permission of his estate by Terry Davies. The ensemble was a small live orchestra, conducted by Brett Morris and although I was wary of the opening notes of the night having some production effects – to make it sound contemporary possibly – these effects were not persistent and a mostly natural sound was heard. Bourne was able to disregard the intention of the original score and match the music to whatever section he wanted. The familiar 'Dance Of The Knights' was heard right at the start and at other times throughout the night symbolising menace and heightening emotion rather than the family of the Capulets. The music was used well and played fantastically.

It is hard to take something old, well known and familiar such as Romeo And Juliet - possibly the most famous love story ever known – and create something truly original and unique, new even. Bourne did this with such magic and ease that it bewilders the mind.

Reviewer - Aaron Loughrey
on - 12/6/19

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