Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet, never before seen and much anticipated in Los Angeles’ Hollywood crowd, starts streaming on Friday, 2/19/21 (5 and 8pm)  2/20 (5 and 8pm) and Sunday, 2/21 (1 and 6:30pm) PST at Center Theater Group.   Run time is 91 minutes.

L.A. is seeing for the first time the beloved and re-envisioned work of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with a radical twist.  Bourne, resistant at first to doing an overdone yet ever beloved story of the star crossed lovers, decided in his great collaborative wisdom to get the youth to help interpret the passionate, agonizing and tragic tale anew.

With his stalwart storytelling team, Bourne invited the Prokofiev Estate to be a part of the spartan repositioning of the great master’s iconic work.  With his design team of Lez Brotherston, designer; Paule Constable, lighting, Paul Groothiuis, sound and Terry Davies new orchestrations based on Prokofiev’s score, they moved ahead to invite collaboration of new up-and-coming talent of young associates Arielle Smith, choreographer; Elin Steele, set and costume designer; Ali Hunter, Lighting designer; Rachel Goldberg, Sound; Alexander Ling, orchestrator, and Ellie Slorach, conductor.  His Associate Artistic Director is Etta Murfitt and Principal Conductor, Brett Morris.

As the dance play opens, the mauve silk sheers collapse to reveal a large singular sign above the white tile walls and barred doors.  “The Verona Institute” spreads across the chain link scrim.  We see this is no ordinary boarding school. The dancers are swarming, getting ready for their afternoon “fix,” then isolating the movements into a March to the powerful strains of Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights, with sound designed by Groothiuis and Goldberg.   The regimented forms of “girls” and “boys” crossing passed each other, introduce their fierce relationships.  Not only their movements, but the angles and choreographic designs created by Bourne and Smith, attended by Associate Artistic Director, Etta Murfitt succeed in unfolding this age old story in a distinctive, sensitive and odious way.  Slowly they skillfully unfold the exposition of the characters, and the complicated and intermingled plots.

Brotherson and Steele’s sets and costumes and Constable and Hunter’s lighting are exquisite and utilitarian in their simplicity.  Off white jeans, loose fitting shirts and tunics, easily transitioning at bedtime to shirts and nightgowns of ashy white, lit for dawn, dusk and night.  In the ballroom sequence the stylized cross fusion of renaissance jackets in muted purples, greys and black, juxtaposed against stylized color-driven 50’s wear is lit by dots of light from a disco ball.  The set, rot iron stairways and lead to the second landing.  The tiled walls with separate steel barred doors named “Boys” and “Girls” are on either side of the walls.  The wooden door center stage we soon realize is the center of power.  The darkness behind it supports the clandestine activities that act as the underbelly of the story.

Matthew Bourne's "Romeo and Juliet" - Cordelia Braithwaite as Juliet and Paris Fitzpatrick as Romeo - Photo courtesy of Center Theater Group

Matthew Bourne’s “Romeo and Juliet” – Cordelia Braithwaite as Juliet and Paris Fitzpatrick as Romeo – Photo courtesy of Center Theater Group

In keeping with the original tale, Bourne picks nascent dawning dancers.  Young only in age, but wise in artistry, the fiery haired Juliet, Cordelia Braithwaite is like a candle that burns brightly against the ashen backdrop of the institution.  She burns with subtlety all the way through to her fortuitous end.  The wiry sensitive Romeo, Paris Fitzpatrick, whose innocence and passion is lacerated by madness of events he has little control over.   Together they fit, intertwined.  They kiss as though their need to devour one another cannot chance a separation. And in this story, Juliet’s unfortunate experiences seems to guide the youth into becoming a man before his time.

The lusty brilliant cast is embellished by the menacing Tybalt, played by the strapping Dan Wright .  He does a powerful job in his defiant evilness, attempting to control the wily group with his abuses. He is only softened by the humane and solicitous portrayal of the Reverend Bernadette Laurence, played by Daisy Mae Kemp, (also Mrs. Montegue, Romeo’s Mother, and the nurse).    Mercutio is realized by the  romantic, flamboyant  Ben Brown, and his counterparts Benvolio, by the impish Harrison Dowzell,  with the stunning and energetic sexuality of Jackson Fisch, its Balthazar.  They together add spice and tragedy to the tale.

The dancers Tanisha Addicott, Callum Bowman, Alexander Fadayiro, Cameron Flynn, Emily Galvin, Aston Hall, Bryony Harrison, Monique Jonas, Hannah Kremer, Sharol MacKenzie, Mark Samaras, Christopher Thomas, Roisin Whelan, Jancek Wood seem hand-picked for their outstanding dance and dramatic sensibility.  They so resonate with the contemporary feel of the work itself, and support with full commitment to the lives and desires of the young lovers.

As for Bourne’s leadership in creativity and collaboration, the essence of this piece harks back to the grit that was Shakespeare.  The dancers don’t need to speak, their movements and spirit play the words in one’s head.  The courage to create this piece, through the eyes of young people gives us hope that Bourne’s inventions will be a legacy that moves on to our next generation and for that we are grateful.

To view Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet, click HERE.

To learn more about Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, click HERE.

To visit the Center Theatre Group Digital Stage website, click HERE.

Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet – Photo by Johan Persson.