I’m a big theatre fan, which means that I mostly look out for what plays are showing in London. Recently however, I’ve started to notice dance shows as well, and for example the exciting dance companies coming to Sadler’s Wells in the next few months.
The latest show to open at the Peacock Theatre is Romeo and Juliet, directed by Rasta Thomas and choreographed by Adrienne Canterna, creators of the dance sensation Rock the Ballet. What is unique is that they’ve used their innovative style to tell the timeless tale of star crossed lovers. The all-American company invites us to an evening of fun filled with classical (Vivaldi) and contemporary pop tunes that make you transition from tears to laughs.
The story is told through the classic story’s youth in two acts, with only ten dancers filling the stage. The characters are first individually introduced to usthanks to a large background screen which presents every new scene. As we know, Romeo (Preston Swovelin) and Juliet (Adrienne Canterna) meet at a masked ball and completely fall in love. Canterna explains of her work that she wanted the movement and acting to be more important than the dancing, and this is a success: the two main dancers beautifully convey the confused, ecstatic, frightened, happy and innocent feelings of the teenagers’ first love. Their bodies and expressions communicate them vividly to the audience.
I think my favourite moment is at the Capulet ball, when Romeo and Juliet have their first encounter. It is beautiful, innocent, and exciting.
There is always an effort to make the dance movements as natural as possible, to highlight specific moments and feelings: this is the case when Juliet daydreams about Romeo in her room or when the two lovers spend the night together after Romeo kills Tybalt. The body language, again, really is what matters the most and what brings the audience completely into the moment, forgetting that Act 2 has darkness in store.
We do notice that signs of death are looming around, through costume and the violence between Caputels and Montagues. There are many moments when the two gangs reminded me of the Jets and Sharks in West Side Story. There are some fantastic fighting sequences between the young men.
This is definitely a night of fun: the song choices, from Jay Z and Usher to Katy Perry and My Chemical Romance seem random at first, but the lyrics are always precisely chosen. We can see how this production is filled with love, how the dancers are putting their hearts into this story. There are some truly breathtaking dancing sequences, such as the Boys’ trio or the Wedding. The contemporary music also helps to lift the story to a new timeless level, away from Vivaldi.
This is easy to say, but I wish there had been live music, so that the transitions from a classical song to a contemporary song could have been smoother. The help of instruments could have created a beautiful transitioning effect and less of a fracture.
While the musical transitions are just a little detail, the costume choices are not always the best. Romeo’s sheer trousers could have been changed for something that reflected the story’s darkness more. Juliette’s ball dress hidesher legs and therefore don’t let us enjoy the beauty of the choreography of the lovers' first encounter enough. Friar Laurence’s (Jace Zeimantz) cloak also continually hides his movements, which is very disappointing. He has a nice presence but I missed a lot of his moves.
The dancers were all exceptional. Preston Swovelin as Romeo was at ease and very natural, which fit perfectly with the show's style. I would have loved to see even more solos by him. Ivan Gomez and Jarvis McKinley were a perfect energetic team as Benvolio and Mercutio and Ryan Carlson as Tybalt was delightful as a Shark-like tough enemy of Romeo. Those jumps! Finally, Adrienne Canterna as Juliet showed her wonderful range and was mesmerising.
Despite a few random elements, this was a fun evening which mixed humour and good beats to remind us that Romeo and Juliet will never go out of style.
Review by Sophie Tergeist