Preston Swovelin (Romeo) and Adrienne Canterna (Juliet) Photo © Irina Chira

Preston Swovelin (Romeo) and Adrienne Canterna (Juliet)
Photo © Irina Chira

Peacock Theatre, London, UK; March 2, 2015

Jessica Wilson

The reimagining of classic tales is not uncommon, but Rasta Thomas’ Dance Company’s interpretation of “Romeo and Juliet” for goes further, taking the iconic love story and dramatically altering the perspective. Choreographer Adrienne Canterna has added many quirks that ultimately make the tale relevant today.

As engaging and applicable as the iconic classic can be, a refresh is exactly what is required to spark new views. Here, the greatest love story of all time becomes a love story for the 21st century here as Canterna banishes the Capulet and Montague parents and a retells the story through the eyes of the title teenagers. Her unique adaptation also includes none of the usual crowd scenes – deemed unnecessary by her – but does benefit from her
female influence throughout.

Thomas’ multi-faceted dancers set the backdrop to the heart-breaking drama of the original star-crossed lovers, with dance that is as “sensual, moving and passionate” as the publicity suggests. Canterna’s version of Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy merges classical ballet with a distinctly commercial feel. The dance and music is an eclectic mix of past and present; the movement is a fusion of ballet, martial arts, hip hop and acrobatics, and the soundtrack runs from Antonio Vivaldi to Jay Z, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and David Guetta. It certainly provided a fresh, heartfelt and new take on the tragedy.

Preston Swovelin (Romeo) and Adrienne Canterna (Juliet)  Photo © Irina Chira

Preston Swovelin (Romeo) and Adrienne Canterna (Juliet)
Photo © Irina Chira

After a rather shaky opening minus the projections that are vital to transport the piece, the dancers did well to reset and restart. When they did, each of the ten dancers’ individual talents clearly complemented the others’, while remaining unique for each character. Be it commercial tricks or comic relief, each brought much to the staging.

The music and choreography are inextricably linked, very much informed by and dependent on each other. This might be deemed a rather mainstream and even traditional practice, but for a production that is encouraging a different take on a classic, it seems suitable.

As the evening progressed and the emotion built and tensions rose, the movement vocabulary became more adventurous and contemporary in its approach. Although hugely theatrical, it is mostly one-dimensional though, without much depth, and while unobtrusive, it was not ground-breaking. And, occasionally, the balletic vocabulary interspersed with the other dance did appear rather twee – movement for movement’s sake – but the dancers’ other talents displayed did much to resolve this.

Canterna had the added pressure of being both the choreographer and dancing Juliet. Her portrayal – and that of Romeo (Preston Swovelin) – was endearing and human, tender until the end. The earlier technical problems did much to garner the audience’s support, and what originally appeared contrived became more genuine in its approach. The talents of the both are undeniable, in balletic, contemporary and jazz terms, and while the movement was sometimes predictable it did not detract from the oblivious teenage dream.

Preston Swovelin (Romeo) and Adrienne Canterna (Juliet) at the Capulet Masked Ball. Photo © Irina Chira

Preston Swovelin (Romeo) and Adrienne Canterna (Juliet) at the Capulet Masked Ball.
Photo © Irina Chira

The emotionally charged performances of Romeo and his Juliet emulated a tremendous love which was playful and happy, in contrast to classic interpretations where it is so often limited by convention.

Although the frequent comic sometimes and unfortunately detracts from the dancers’ highly versatile performances, overall this is a “Romeo and Juliet” where dance and action melts effortlessly into one. The love story is completely viable as a result, with intricate attention paid to the minute details which convey the necessary emotion; nuances of love that spell rebellion, passion and joy, and nuances that carried the audience the whole way to the harrowing, inevitable close.