Published: 15:22, June 18, 2024
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Romeo and Juliet imprisoned by love
By Zhang Kun in Shanghai
Matthew Bourne's Romeo and Juliet takes Shakespeare's timeless tragedy to a prison-like institute in the near future and adopts a creative interpretation of the story. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Matthew Bourne's Romeo and Juliet, a radical modern reinterpretation of the classical love tragedy, is touring China starting with six performances at Shanghai Culture Square from Wednesday to Sunday.

The dance drama will go on to perform in Beijing from Thursday to Sunday, Guangzhou in Guangdong province from July 5 to 7, and Macao Special Administrative Region from July 11 to 13.

Bourne is the UK's most popular and successful choreographer and director. Best known for his creation of Swan Lake, the world's longest-running ballet production, he is a record-breaking nine-time Oliver Award winner, and the only British director to have won the Tony Award for both best choreographer and best director of a musical.

It has been five years since the British choreographer's creation was presented in China. His Swan Lake, featuring a menacing male ensemble instead of the female corps de ballet, made its China debut at Shanghai Culture Square in 2014. In 2016 and 2018, respectively his Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella performances were shown in Shanghai, and in 2019, Shanghai Culture Square saw the return of Swan Lake.

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"Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake amazed audiences in Shanghai and since then, we have seen the creative model continue in more of his dance theater productions: the traditional tale subverted, classical music retained, contemporary aesthetics and psychological value highlighted," says Fei Yuanhong, deputy general manager of Shanghai Culture Square. "He has injected a new impetus and perspective into the dance world."

His version of Romeo and Juliet gives Shakespeare's timeless story of forbidden love an injection of raw passion and youthful vitality. A skillful retelling of teenage discovery and the madness of first love, the production won critical acclaim when it premiered in 2019.

Romeo and Juliet, presented by his New Adventures company, takes Shakespeare's timeless tragedy to a prison-like institute in the near future and adopts a free interpretation of the story, changing the feud between two families into conflicts between the guards and young inmates of the Verona Institute. It focuses on youthful love, and serious and relevant contemporary themes such as violence and consequences.

Bourne created the dance drama using the original music of former Soviet composer Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953). Bourne says that the music was his "greatest asset".

"To me, it sounds like a modern movie score. It is full of intense feeling and yearning, a gift to a storyteller but not necessarily the story it was written for. The music is so rich, if you listen again and again you can find new stories and emotions within it," the choreographer tells Chinese media via written notes.

Matthew Bourne's Romeo and Juliet takes Shakespeare's timeless tragedy to a prison-like institute in the near future and adopts a creative interpretation of the story. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Bourne had the original score recomposed and used various instruments to different parts, says Monique Jonas, who plays Juliet in the show, before the premiere in Shanghai on Wednesday.

"It's been twisted around just like the story has. So that kind of detail, as well as the attention to details in the creation of this show, is just highlighting its brilliance," Jonas says.

Storytelling is of great importance in all of Bourne's dance dramas. He chooses stories that "people need no prior knowledge of to follow", and adds to his modern interpretation of the familiar story with a touch of British wit and humor.

"And I cast dancers who look like real people who the audience can identify with. I think that helps too," Bourne says.

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"I think Matthew is really great at finding performers that have the ability to act and dance so beautifully together," says Alan Vincent, resident director of Romeo and Juliet.

In the creative process, the cast starts with a lot of exercises in finding the characters and playing around with different scenes and ideas and how they can be made into a dance, he explains.

"And then it just sort of develops over time … with all the shows we do, I feel like they grow and get bigger and the storytelling gets clearer."

If you go

Matthew Bourne's Romeo and Juliet

7:30 pm, June 12-15; 2 pm, June 15-16

Shanghai Culture Square, 597 Fuxing Road Middle, Huangpu district, Shanghai. 021-5461-9961.

7:30 pm, June 20-23; 2:30 pm, June 22-23

Beijing Tianqiao Performing Art Center, Building No 9, Tianqiao Nan Dajie, Xicheng district, Beijing. 400-635-3355.

7:30 pm July 5-7; 2:30 pm, July 6-7

Guangzhou Opera House, No 1 Zhujiang Road West, Tianhe district, Guangzhou, Guangdong province. 020-3839-2888.

8 pm, July 11-12; 3 pm, July 13

Macao Cultural Center, 733-J You Yi Da Ma Lu, Macao Peninsula, Tel: 853-2870-0699