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Romeo and Juliet

Choreographed by Adrienne Canterna, music by Vivaldi, Prokofiev, Barber, Jay Z, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry etc
Rasta Thomas Dance Company
Peacock Theatre

Directed by Rasta Thomas and choreographed by Adrienne Canterna, this is a compact retelling of Shakespeare’s story that places the emphasis on the young; the older generation doesn’t make an appearance.

Even Juliet’s nurse (Jourdan Epstein), more a personal maid and companion, and Friar Lawrence (Jace Zeimantz) are youthful—and you’ll never have seen a monk that’s more athletic.

The production uses a melange of music that sometimes fits awkwardly together but the choreography mixes dances styles seamlessly, responding to the emotion of the moment and making communicative mime all part of the flow.

Billed now as a dance company rather than, as when last seen here, the “bad Boys of Ballet”, there is much less emphasis on bared male flesh than in Rock the Ballet, though a scene in a fancy dress emporium provides an opportunity to strip off that brought delighted shrieks from some of the audience on press night.

There is still plenty of testosterone in evidence in a display of pounding energy and athletic ability matched to sharp technique that sometimes sends itself up with a few bits of loose-wristed camping.

The story unfolds through an episodic sequence of short scenes, most making a brief point but sometimes expanding into a more extended and lyrical romantic encounter. The stage is kept clear for the dancers and settings provided by projections designed by Joshua Hardy with atmosphere and excitement boosted by Roland Greil’s lighting.

Preston Swovelin presents a boy-next-door Romeo. Jarvis McKinley’s lively Mercutio and Ivan Gomez's protective Benvolio are his best mates: a gentler group that the gang led by Ryan Carlson’s red clad Tybalt, his sidekicks Lloyd Body and Samuel Quinn as Gregory and Sampson.

That lot would pick a fight with anyone. An opening that introduces the characters and separates Montagues from Capulets is the only link to a family feud and there is little sense of Juliet falling for the enemy.

Count Paris becomes much more than the cypher suitor of the play. He is an elegant young gent who might well have been Juliet’s Prince Charming had she not met Romeo and Eric Lehn dances him with style.

Adrienne Canterna herself dances Juliet. It is a very girlie performance, looking like glitter-sprayed Barbie doll. Suddenly she is faced with trying to be grown up and a mad scene Canterna gives herself after suitor Paris proposes may be a real breakdown, not play acting; a Giselle moment, but she and Swovelin are lyrically romantic. However explicit some of their lifts may seem they have an aura of innocence.

A fight takes place in a billiard hall, Tybalt trains in a boxing gym and slays Mercutio in a Chinese establishment out of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Romeo seeks revenge following him in tunnels underground, lights dazzling the audience as scenes change and the tempo tightens. The conflicts are carefully choreographed drama. McKinley has a carefully shaped solo as mortally-wounded Mercutio, well executed. Romeo faces Tybalt without weapons until a knife is thrown to Tybalt which Romeo later seizes.

Unlike Macmillan, Canterna does not offer a duet for Romeo with the “dead” Juliet and concentrates on the gravity of the situation with a central image of dead Juliet laid on a tomb formed by immobile monks. When she has stabbed herself, that seems to be the end but as the audience applaud there is a coda with Benvolio leading a carnival like the Mexican Day of the Dead to suggest a final reconciliation.

It met with clap-along enthusiasm and continues the “wow” factor that Rasta Thomas and Adrienne Canterna have set out to offer in making dance theatre that will have especial appeal to new young audiences.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton