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Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet

Breaking the societal boundaries that would have never been permitted in Prokofiev’s time.

Two bodies lying on a cold metal table. That’s the start of Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet which stirred an explosion of emotions in the audience. The twists in the plot make this ballet almost nothing like Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. The main concept of the pure and idealised love is kept throughout the entirety of the ballet; however, Bourne gives the protagonists their own individual space and way of dealing with traumas. He reshaped the settings of the story and therefore the context of the characters’ actions. They are portrayed as patients of Verona Institute. Even though nothing is stated clearly, there are many indications that this place is an institute for the mentally ill. The stage is stark and minimalistic, a white wall with two doors marked ‘boys’ and ‘girls’, pristine and unwelcoming – an apt allegory for the world in which the two teen lovers find themselves in Shakespeare’s classic. There are no Capulets or Montagues, only the boys and girls, constantly separated, not by strict and unforgiving parents, but by the strict and merciless guards. Without giving too much away, the fact that Romeo is shown to come to the institute later on than Juliet, shaped her reactions and experience towards Romeo.

What impressed the most was the choreography and the ability to focus on each individual’s experience while maintaining the focus on the protagonist’s love story. The dancers’ performances were sharp, and their acting was absolutely beautiful. The music was that of Sergei Prokofiev’s original score written for the 1938 Romeo and Juliet, in particular his Dance of the Knights was used to great effect. It links the tradition of this particular play within the ballet with the unique, more modern style of dance iconic to the avid Bourne fan.

Strong, sensitive and purely stunning. As a student, whose youth was filled with classical ballets and opera shows which respected rigorously the scores and didn’t stray away from the ‘right way’ of doing things, Bourne’s ballet impressed me because of his attention towards sexuality, gender, the issues the youth deals with and their desires. A scene which shows the characters having a ball quickly after Romeo’s arrival at the Verona Institute, plays beautifully with the duality of human nature. The characters adopt a more reserved way of dancing while they are being watched by the guards, however as soon as the lights turn off, there is a burst of energy, attraction and desire. Bourne includes the opposite gender in the groups, playing with the concepts of femininity, masculinity and queerness. He also makes clever use of space and movement when depicting different types of love and their depth, in a scene where Romeo and Juliet are isolated while dancing with the group, by the light and their shy movements filled with desire and curiosity.

This performance is touching, and beautiful and noticeably accessible. If you are looking to get more involved with theatre, in particular ballet, but are worried you will not be able to follow it or do not know where to start, I suggest this triumph as the perfect place to start.  Overall, Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet is a brilliant show, witty with intense feelings stirred by the exceptional choreography.

Written by Tímea Koppándi.

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