On Tour: Decidedly Jazz Danceworks’ Juliet & Romeo at the Fredericton Playhouse

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a lot like a pepperoni pizza. It’s a classic. You know it when you see it. And you know what? You’ll eat it because it’s never really let you down before. In other words, it’s fine. Now, Decidedly Jazz Danceworks’ Juliet & Romeo is all about that pepperoni pizza. It’s just that DJD takes all the basic ingredients of Shakespeare’s play, throws them in a wood-fired oven, and serves you something that makes your taste buds explode.

Adapted by Cory Bowles, Juliet & Romeo is a reimagining of Shakespeare’s play about star-crossed lovers. The plot is all here but not in a traditional sense. Consider Bowles’ adaptation a remix of Romeo and Juliet. Bowles hits the major story beats but rearranges them into something almost entirely new. Kimberley Cooper’s choreography brings the text alive with movement that is exhilarating, tense, and at times contemplative. The production features live original music from Composer/Musical Director Nick Fraser, accompanied on stage by the Nick Fraser Ensemble (Fraser on drums and percussion; Rob Clutton on bass; Jeremy Gignoux on violin; Carsten Rubeling on trombone). The live jazz music is an integral part of Juliet & Romeo, and the company’s DNA. All these elements together produce a deep dive into the material that explores its themes and puts a spotlight on Juliet.

In DJD’s original production, which premiered at the 2017 High Performance Rodeo, Bowles played the Narrator. This time, company dancer Natasha Korney is the Narrator of Juliet & Romeo. Korney is infinitely charming in the role. She captures your eyes and ears with her larger than life persona and fierce delivery of the text.

Bowles weaves the tragic story of Pyramus and Thisbe into Juliet & Romeo. If you remember from English class, Pyramus and Thisbe appear in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, woefully but amusingly staged by Bottom’s theatre troupe. Korney, dressed in a big coat to play The Wall, energizes Bowles’ take on Pyramus and Thisbe with comedic flair. Shayne Johnson and Catherine Hayward play Pyramus and Thisbe, respectively. Cooper’s choreography sees Johnson and Hayward reaching through the wall, wanting so desperately to bridge the distance between them. The story ends with Pyramus and Thisbe choosing death over living apart — sound familiar?

“3000 years later…”

By including Pyramus and Thisbe, Bowles winks and nods at not only the ultimate fate of our young lovers but the timelessness of their story. Young people will always rebel against their parents and go to great lengths for love (or what they think is love). Or maybe not. Juliet & Romeo’s thesis is not so simple.

Soon after, Juliet & Romeo narrows its focus on Juliet. The dancers gather around a table and, using shoes as hand puppets, illustrate Juliet’s situation at home. Juliet is a 14-year old girl with no freedom. Her future is not her own. Juliet’s father promises Count Paris that his daughter will marry him. Moving up the social ladder is all that matters to the young Capulet’s family, not her happiness. The “shoe show” is delightfully crafted by Cooper.

Meanwhile, Romeo (at this point played by Kaleb Tekeste) is livin’ la vida loca. He’s a regular bro. Tekeste is laid back and totally cool as Romeo. He and the boys have nothing to stress about. No, really. What is the biggest problem in Romeo’s life before he meets Juliet? Unrequited love. After meeting Juliet? Putting a ring on her finger. Small beans compared to everything Juliet has on her plate.

Everything changes when Tybalt (Scott Augustine) enters the equation. Johnson really shines here as Mercutio, the clown of Romeo’s friend group. Even in the face of death, Johnson’s Mercutio has time to crack a smile. Cooper’s choreography brilliantly brings together danger and levity as Mercutio and Tybalt fight, with Romeo trying to defuse the situation. Of course, Mercutio gets stabbed, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to have the last laugh. He collapses, then tries to get to his feet, only to collapse again. Mercutio flips off Tybalt and dies. Johnson’s facial expressions and comedic timing elevate the scene.

Thanks to Costumer Designer Sarah Doucet, the dancers look super slick in this world of secrets and schemes, of jazz and violent delights. 

In the second act, the dancers run through the entire plot of Romeo and Juliet in “6 Minutes and 47 Seconds.” The whirlwind scene sees the whole company flex their comedic talents. It is reminiscent of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). The scene is hilarious.

The show returns its focus to Juliet at the end. In an “Open Letter to Juliet,” the Narrator wonders what might have happened if Juliet had friends around her. What if Juliet had a support system to keep her from acting so drastically? Perhaps it was unbearable loneliness and Juliet’s estrangement from her family that pushed her. Hayward dances an eloquent solo, moving vertically and horizontally across Scott Reid’s industrial set, as Korney laments Juliet’s fate. The open letter also expresses rage, all of it directed towards misogyny and patriarchal oppression. 

DJD’s Juliet & Romeo is a must-see. The company brings together dance, theatre, and live music for an enthralling experience that reimagines and reinvigorates Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Decidedly Jazz Danceworks presented Juliet & Romeo at the Fredericton Playhouse on October 30th. The production ran as part of the Fredericton Playhouse’s Spotlight Series.

DJD’s Canadian tour of Juliet & Romeo runs October 8 – November 20.

Juliet & Romeo will run as part of the 34th Annual High Performance Rodeo. The show will run January 16 – 26, 2020, at the DJD Dance Centre in Calgary. Tickets available here.

DJD Dancers:

Scott Augustine
Cassandra Bowerman
Sabrina Comanescu
Jared Ebell
Jason Owin F. Galeos
Catherine Hayward
Kaja Irwin
Shayne Johnson
Kaleb Tekeste

Mercutio & Tybalt Impresses at Calgary Fringe Festival


From left to right: Tybalt (Celene Harder) and Mercutio (Val Duncan) bring their side of the story to life in Valour & Tea’s Mercutio & Tybalt. Photo Credit: Chris Tait.

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has seen its fair share of adaptations and retellings, but none, Mercutio (Val Duncan) says, have come even close to the truth. For how many know that Mercutio and Tybalt (Celene Harder) were actually close friends? That is the premise of Valour & Tea’s newest work Mercutio & Tybalt, a hilarious reimagining of Shakespeare’s most popular play.

Written and directed by Duncan and Harder, Mercutio & Tybalt catches up with the titular characters in the afterlife. Still bitter about the fact that the story of two dumb, hormone-crazed teenagers has endured the last 400 years, Mercutio and Tybalt decide it’s time that they share their story with the world. What follows is an epic tale of bromance, full of puppetry and swordplay, that weaves in and out of familiar scenes from Romeo and Juliet.

Duncan and Harder stay true to the Bard’s style by performing the show entirely in iambic pentameter, with modern slang included in the mix. In doing so, Mercutio and Tybalt’s vaudeville-inspired antics are given a natural, if not musical, rhythm for the actors to follow.

Duncan and Harder have crafted a wildly fun show that works for both friends and acquaintances of the Bard. Harder’s bad-tempered Tybalt is the perfect foil to Duncan’s immature, yet sharp tongued Mercutio. The pair work brilliantly together, delivering a charming performance abundant in wit and attitude.

Mercutio & Tybalt captures the spirit of its source material, while delivering something fresh and vibrant at the same time. Audiences will find much to enjoy here, guaranteed.

Val Duncan and Celene Harder’s Mercutio Tybalt runs July 31st – August 8th as part of the 2015 Calgary Fringe Festival.

For more information about the show and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://see.calgaryfringe.ca/events/464-mercutio-tybalt

Coming Out Swinging: The SCPA Takes on West Side Story

The American Jets, led by Riff (Matthew Hall), are ready to rumble in West Side Story. Photo Credit: Citrus Photography.

The American Jets, led by Riff (Matthew Hall, front), are ready to rumble in West Side Story. Photo Credit: Citrus Photography.

The latest production by the University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts, West Side Story impresses with its musical score and social themes that are as relevant today as they were when the musical was first produced in 1957. Even with its great choreography and sound, however, this production of the classic Broadway musical leaves much to be desired when the music stops.

Based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story trades the Capulets and Montagues of fair Verona with warring street gangs fighting over territory in New York’s Upper West Side.

Set in the 1950s, the American Jets, led by Riff (Matthew Hall), and the Puerto Rican Sharks, led by Bernando (Rufi O. Rodriguez), plan to hold one last, decisive fight between the two teenage gangs. Riff calls on a reluctant Tony (Ahad Mir) to come support the guys one last time. Tony agrees to help. Although, the situation becomes complicated when Tony meets and falls in love with Maria (Jocelyn Francescut), Bernando’s sister, at the school dance. When he sets out to stop the rumble at Maria’s request, Tony soon becomes more involved than he ever wanted to be.

Dispersed across the theatre audience are five actors who open the show with the Prologue from Romeo and Juliet. The ‘Greek Chorus’ returns again, this time in black clothing, to close the first act, then the second with the Epilogue. It is a largely unnecessary addition to the musical considering this is not Romeo and Juliet. It may have been inspired by the Bard’s play, yes, but it is its own story that speaks to a whole different set of issues like immigration, racism, and at-risk street youth. Not to mention that the actors speak their lines out of sync with the others.

While visually appealing, the colorful graffiti designs painted across the set are not period-appropriate. The graffiti is reminiscent of what came out of the hip-hop culture explosion of the 1980s. As such, it sits oddly against the very 50s feel and setting of the musical.

Melissa Monteros and Wojciech Mochniej’s choreography is brilliant. The “Dance at the Gym” and “America” numbers see a lot of flair and excitement. The movement during the rumble and other fight scenes is sharp. There is certainly an edge to Monteros and Mochniej’s choreography. And thankfully, the students, alumni members, and community members involved in the production are up to task and dance wonderfully. (Although, not without some near collisions along the way).

Leonard Bernstein’s memorable musical score is beautifully interpreted by Maestro Wendy J. Freeman and her orchestra. The orchestra plays superbly, giving us a very full, expressive sound.

Unfortunately, in between musical numbers, the show runs a bit flat due to some uninspiring performances. Besides stand outs like Hall and Kayla Mackenzie who plays the fiery Anita, the remaining cast, for the most part, is lackluster. It is not until the second act that the ensemble seems to truly connect with the piece.

Francescut gives an astounding vocal performance. Her voice is powerful, easily capable of filling the theatre, and simply beautiful in its clarity. It is too bad then that Mir’s own vocal performance never quite rises to the same level as his scene partner.

Overall, the SCPA’s production of West Side Story is a strong effort. Audiences will find much to enjoy here, despite some areas that are lacking.

 The University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts’ production of West Side Story runs from Jan 8 – 15, 2014, at the University Theatre.

For more information about the show, visit: http://scpa.ucalgary.ca/events/west-side-story

West Side Story
Based on a Conception of Jerome Robbins
Book by Arthur Laurents
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.