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Matthew Bourne’s Romeo + Juliet: Behind the Scenes at New Adventures

Written by Ronnie Walerowska
27th September 2019

Romeo and Juliet, as a title, comes with certain expectations. Arguably one of Shakespeare’s most recognisable works, the storyline follows the eponymous lovers from the fateful meeting up until the very end of their story. As vague as that may sound, the similarities between the classic play and Bourne’s take on it seem to end there. We have had the amazing opportunity to discuss this with some of the New Adventures’ Young Cast currently working on the production.

I have visited Central Hall with our Head of News, Wes Spearman, to see it all for ourselves at a dance rehearsal session. In all honesty, we did not know what to expect and, as it turns out, having any expectations for this rendition of the play only means they are likely to be subverted.

We were joined by Arianne Morgan (20, from the Isle of Wight) and Jago Mottart (16, Cornwall) to discuss the ins and outs behind Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet. We have also exchanged some words with Dillon Berry and Samuel Dilkes; this makes four out of the six Young Cast members for the Mayflower production.

Question: What kind of experiences brought you here? Think about school, any past projects or other events that made you passionate about dance and acting.

Dillon: I started dancing years ago because I wanted to audition for Billy Elliot, didn’t get it and then I sort of quit for ages. Then, one day, one of the dance teachers at the local dance school told me that I have really nice pointed feet, so I started dancing again. I think for me it was going to watch the shows that the company had made, so I went to see Red Shoes, which was just amazing. That sort of me got me like, wow! This is big, you know? [laughter] And then, just hearing about them and seeing advertisements on the shows. I went to see the all-male Swan Lake too, that was… I mean, it was terrifying, because I was looking at what may be the standard for what’s expected, which is very high. One day I just saw these auditions for the Young Cast, which is like, wow, okay, let’s do it!

Arianne: I finished my professional training at Rambert school where I got my degree, I studied there for three years… With Rambert came more knowledge about professional dance companies so I’ve been following Matthew Bourne in his footsteps and what he’s doing for years, so when this opportunity arose I was right there. It’s great, it’s surreal, it’s lovely.

Jago: My mum is a drama teacher so I’ve always been around theatre, as well as just loving the music. I’ve done dance since I was five, so I’ve been doing it for a while – I’m sixteen, so I’m yet to go to dance college. I’ll go to Urdang Academy in London in 2020, but other than that I have just come out of secondary school and what is great about this project – especially the six Young Cast –  is that there’s so many young dancers that are pre- or during their training that get to have this amazing experience that’s so unheard of unless you’ve just done three years of dance college and are of a certain age. It’s a really great experience.

Q: How did you become involved with New Adventures?

Sam: I kind of did the same [as Dillon]. This is definitely one of the biggest companies in the dance world, or the contemporary world at least, it is so well known and passing up on the opportunity would be ridiculous, it’s ridiculous how much influence this company has.

A: The New Adventures team put out an audition notice back in January, last January so quite a long while ago, just saying they needed dancers for a special project – we had absolutely no idea what the project was.

J: It was 16 to 19 [year old dancers] as well, so they’ve put up this message on the socials as well saying ‘we need dancers 16 to 19’ and so everyone was like: [excitedly] what’s this about?What’s gonna happen here? It was really interesting to start with, no details or anything.

A: Nothing. Got to the audition knowing nothing, and by this point they’d already been brainstorming with the main company and they already knew what they wanted and what they were doing but we obviously had no idea, so we turned up and did some acting, some dance sections obviously, it was just kind of a workshop for the whole day on the diffusion between acting and dance.

J: And that’s definitely important for this show specifically, because it’s really strong both acting-wise and dancing-wise – I can see now why we did so much acting in the audition.

Q: Was there something that made you specifically interested in this production? Based on what you’ve just told me, I’m guessing it was kind of a big unknown. Did you audition for a specific part, or did you just audition and were later told you got a role?

A: There was a main audition and we did sections showcasing each individual in really small groups, so they knew they could spot who they wanted, what kind of look they wanted and so with that audition we knew if we got in or not. The first intensive [New Adventures workshop] was kind of like the casting process, so they would assign roles but wouldn’t tell us – we only found out our roles this week. We had no idea until we got here.

J: I think something interesting about the roles as well, as we were doing the intensives as the Young Cast, they were obviously watching us and how we dance. Aside from the main characters, obviously Romeo, Juliet and Tybalt and all, for the ensemble Matthew has created dancer tracks – so each member of the Young Cast learns a specific track, so you’ll go here, dance with this person and you’ll move so everyone learns effectively the same thing but we all add our own twist to it. In this production I play Griffin.

A: And I play Bridget.

J: All the characters are names from different Shakespeare plays that Matthew Bourne has just chosen so that’s that added twist as well.

Q: What do you think about this take on the play? Do you have favourite parts? Of course, you have just mentioned that everyone learns ‘the part’ and then you all add your own twist to it but have you got any parts you really love or enjoy performing?

D: I think the way that it’s been done is so far from the original and I’d say that it’s absolutely genius. The changes in both the character and also the script are just phenomenal and it’s original. I don’t quite know how to put it, but it’s clever, you know? It’s just art.

S: It’s got so much from the original storyline, the classical ballet – most of the score is from the original ballet, but it still differs from the original, not completely but it’s flipped upside down almost.

A: This rendition of Romeo and Juliet is completely different – you kind of have- no, not even that, I think everything is different. I’m not going to give too much away because I would be spoiling the whole thing but some of the roles are completely switched, some of them are just- you will be shocked when you watch it. You will watch it and you will think, woah, that is just so different. It’s really exciting to see the differences from the classic Shakespeare to Matthew’s version, it is really interesting.

J: Yeah, especially the key moments that he did – he did the party, the balcony scene, you’ve got all of it. The ending, which – if you know Romeo and Juliet – there’s, you know, no spoilers but it’s quite a universal story. We’ve got those key scenes, but it’s completely different. If you come see the show, there’s guaranteed something that you won’t expect because it’s so, so different. For a favourite scene, I think, not gonna be specific about it but the last scene before the interval is quite dramatic so it’s definitely always really fun to dance.

A: That’s my favourite too, actually.

J: But you’ll have to come see the show to find out!

It is worth mentioning at this point that seeing the rehearsal felt almost like a fever dream; since the story is told primarily through dance and gestures, it can be somewhat confusing to an unexpecting spectator. It is most definitely a myriad of movement that takes some observational skills to appreciate in its entirety. As eyes tend to dart towards the centre of attention, focusing on each step and slide becomes more difficult – arguably, understanding the storyline should become easier with the set and costumes in place, but the choreography itself gives it that mystical feeling that expresses more than words.

Q: What’s your typical day like rehearsing on set and does it differ from any other experiences you might have had?

A: We start our days at 10 and we do a company class altogether, warming ourselves up to make sure we’re all ready for rehearsals and then that kind of goes into cleaning the sections, making sure everyone’s on the same page and only then we maybe run it, have lunch, things like that. But also we spend the days making sure that, as I said, everyone’s on the same page and also altogether as a company. We do that for a whole day, have a couple of breaks, but the majority will be running it and at the end of the day will be kind of dialing it down, working by yourself on things you need to improve on. They’re long days, really long days, very intense, but it’s a great group of people and we get along great.

J: That’s also really good about it, because although we are the six of Young Cast, for the tour the professional cast come in and we are working all day alongside each other, doing the same scenes, dancing next to each other so there’s no difference in that way. We’re treated as equally as the professionals and treated as hardly as well so it’s a really great experience for us, the six Young Cast, who haven’t done as many shows. It’s an eye opener into how things are run –  intense, but worth it.

Another thing that is quite admirable as well as worth mentioning is that New Adventures really makes a point of self-improvement. After the run through, the cast sat down quite comfortably, seemingly relaxing as soon as the music was cut. Many of the members had notebooks and took down notes of things to keep in mind, which I found fascinating since this kind of production does not really come across as an educational, school-like environment. There appears to be this learning dynamic where everyone respectfully takes constructive criticism, yet they are encouraged not to apologise for their mistakes and to learn from them instead. It is refreshing to see such a comfortable environment and, more importantly, to see the dancers out of character. As with any behind-the-scenes events, it can be so surprising to meet cast members for who they are, whether that is rather shy and timid or talkative and animated. Just like the Young Cast are learning about the industry through the project and the company, I really appreciated the opportunity to peek behind the curtain as a fellow student and a young reporter.

Q: Any other thoughts you might have?
J: I think, maybe for me, I haven’t really said it much but the sense of gratitude? For this experience, since it’s completely different from anything I’ve ever done and comparing that, it really doesn’t, because it’s so different. I don’t think I’ve done anything this intense or this long or this big of a production, like performing at the Mayflower is massive. Just really amazing to be here and to be having such a great time with everyone. It’s so, so good and the piece, it’s [simulates a small explosion] really mind blowing.

A: As you said, to compare with the professional experiences that I’ve done, it’s lovely. As I said, the company – they’re so sweet, so willing to help us out because they’ve been doing it for longer, it’s really great to have that support system and to have people rallying together. We just can’t wait to get to the Mayflower!

D: Working with this company is both the most intensive and also amazing dance experience that I’ve ever had. It’s just amazing, such a good opportunity for me and for anybody that maybe wants to do dance. 

Check out New Adventures at https://new-adventures.net/ to see upcoming productions and tours.

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