Exciting, athletic and energetic, choreographer Adrienne Canterna’s take on the Romeo and Juliet story was well pitched for her enthusiastic young audience.

Shakespeare’s complex narratives are not easy to convey in dance, but there was no danger of losing the plot in this production: each character’s name was projected on the backdrop when he or she first appeared, and the programme gave a breakdown of the narrative scenes, listing them like numbers in a musical.

The music ranged from Vivaldi and Prokofiev to Lady Gaga and The Police, and Canterna certainly knows how to whip up a teenage audience: a costume shop scene in which a line-up of fit young men partially stripped off in order to try on fancy dress for the Capulet ball drew enthusiastic whoops from the Stalls. Ideas such as a red carpet scene complete with paparazzi before the ball, or a scene with Tybalt in a boxing gymnasium gave the story contemporary resonance.

Described on the programme as ‘ballet with a 21st century twist’, the overall shape was more like a musical than a ballet, with a separate piece of music and dance illustrating each scene. This makes it difficult to build to a dramatic climax as the dancers almost have to begin again each time. There was some nice characterization (the smugness on Eric Lehn’s Paris and the brutality of Ryan Carlson’s Tybalt come to mind), but an episodic structure with such varied music makes it difficult to create a unique dance language for each character.

The decision to eliminate the older generation of Capulets and Montagues from the story effectively removed the driving force behind Shakespeare’s narrative, but there were nods to the text, such as when one dancer bit his thumb at another, or when Romeo and Juliet touched the palms of their hands together.

The company of (mostly male) dancers, trained in the US, feels all American and they have an energy that we don’t always see here. The dance style is a mixture of ballet (including pointe), with acrobatics and lyrical jazz movement. Canterna herself as Juliet has a gorgeous supple physicality, which was matched by her Romeo (Preston Swovelin).

Canterna says in an interview with Graham Watts that is published in the programme that she ‘wanted to tell [the story] through the teenagers’ eyes’, and the entire evening has something of a modern American teenage sitcom feel. If you love Gossip Girl, you will probably love this too.

There is still time to catch this show, which closes on Sunday 29 March, at the Peacock Theatre: http://www.sadlerswells.com/whats-on/2015/rasta-thomas-romeo-juliet/

Maggie Watson

28 March 2015

Graham Watts’ article is available here: http://theatresoutheast.com/adrienne-canterna-interview/