Dance Review: MATTHEW BOURNE’S ROMEO AND JULIET (North American Premiere, Ahmanson Theatre in L.A.)

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by Michael M. Landman-Karny on February 1, 2024

in Dance,Theater-International,Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


Sir Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet, which made its North American premiere at the Ahmanson last night, is a bonafide hit, redefining this classic ballet (based on Shakespeare’s 1597 masterpiece) for the 21st century. Bourne, a visionary in the world of dance, has crafted a production that pulsates with modern relevance and emotional depth.

Rory MacLeod and Monique Jonas
Alan Vincent, Cordelia Braithwaite and Rory MacLeod

Bourne’s production is a masterclass in atmospheric storytelling. Verona is no longer a city in Italy but a mental asylum. Bourne conjures a dystopian realm where young captives are subdued and manipulated through medical intervention and disciplinary tactics, their movements meticulously synchronized, echoing their stifled autonomy. Lez Brotherston’s set design plays a pivotal role in this narrative. His creation, a stark white semicircle adorned with three doors and framed by staircases and a balcony, all encased within white fencing, powerfully symbolizes the characters’ imprisonment. This visual motif reinforces the underlying theme of restricted freedom and adds a dramatic intensity to the performance’s milieu. The lighting design by Paule Constable deftly accentuates each emotional crescendo, directing focus to the heart of every scene with precision.

Jackson Fisch, Harry Ondrak-Wright, Cameron Flynn,
Paris Fitzpatrick, Daisy May Kemp
Bryony Pennington and New Adventures dancers

Prokofiev’s 1940 score is brilliantly reorchestrated by Terry Davies. The infusion of modern elements such as electronic music, a saxophone, and a vibraphone, creates a soundscape that mirrors the narrative’s tumultuous emotions. The reorchestrated score is more condensed than the original three-act ballet, essentially creating a two-act structure. This approach allowed Bourne to utilize key sections like the “Dance of the Knights” more than once, including at the beginning of the show, to set the tone for his contemporary version.

Rory MacLeod and Monique Jonas
Monique Jonas

As is customary in all Bourne’s productions, principal and featured roles are fluidly shared among the cast, allowing for fresh interpretations each night. The opening night’s cast was ideally cast. Monique Jonas’s Juliet was a fiery and sexy embodiment of intensity, while limber limbed Paris Fitzpatrick‘s Romeo, the son of Senator and Mrs. Montague, captured a fragile and disturbed essence. Adam Galbraith was a sadistic villain as Tybalt, who is no longer Juliet’s cousin but a guard with disturbing “duties,” including sexual harassment and assault and disdain. Bourne, drawing inspiration from classic Broadway musicals, introduces a secondary couple, Mercutio and Balthazar, portrayed by the electrifying Cameron Flynn and Jackson Fisch, who set the stage ablaze with their fiery same-sex chemistry. The entire cast was uniformly exceptional, dancing at a world-class level.

Monique Jonas and Rory Macleod
Hannah Kremer and Bryony Pennington

Bourne’s choreography is a spectacle of storytelling. Exercising his trademark merging of classical ballet with modern dance, the choreography is both fluid and explosive. One specific example is the balcony scene. This iconic scene traditionally features traditional ballet movements, but Bourne added a contemporary twist. He aimed to create the longest kiss in dance history, where the characters lock lips and continue to dance for an extended period. This innovative approach contrasts with the more restrained expressions of affection typical in classical ballet, showing the realistic intense nature of young love. The ensemble scenes, especially the ballroom and fight sequences, were executed with a vigor that left will leave you breathless.

Monique Jonas and Rory Macleod

Though the set does feel sparse at times, and the music is recorded, these elements do not detract from the overall impact of this incredible production. Romeo and Juliet is a must-see for both ballet aficionados and avid theatre goers. Once again Bourne proves himself to be an unparalleled genius in storytelling for the stage.

photos by Johan Persson (@perssonphotography)

Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet
North American Premiere by New Adventures
Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre
The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A.
Tues-Fri- at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 1 & 6:30; Thurs at 2 (Feb 22)
ends on February 25,
2024 (dark Feb. 5 and 25 evening)
for tickets (starting at $35), call 213.628.2772 or visit CTG

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