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[Herald Interview] 'Romeo and Juliet for, and about, a new generation,' says Matthew Bourne

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : April 21, 2024 - 10:19

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Matthew Bourne's Matthew Bourne's "Romeo and Juliet" (LG Arts Center)

Renowned British choreographer Matthew Bourne's "Romeo and Juliet" is set to make its Korean premiere at the LG Arts Center in Seoul from May 8 to May 19.

This contemporary reimagining of Shakespeare’s tragic romance and Prokofiev’s ballet masterpiece takes the audience to the near future at the Verona Institute, an imaginary reformatory for young people that is tightly watched over by security guards.

In a written interview with The Korea Herald on Thursday, Bourne described the piece as "'Romeo and Juliet' for, and about, a new generation."

"It has, at its heart, the story of first love, and the same tragic outcome, but how we get to that conclusion is full of surprises for our audiences," said Bourne.

Bourne's dance drama boldly tackles the contemporary issues faced by today's teenagers such as drugs, trauma, depression, abuse and sexual identity.

The show features a strong Juliet who is fighting her own demons, an inexperienced and quirky Romeo, a gay couple, a villain who also has emotional depth, and a truthful depiction of violence and its consequences, according to the choreographer.

Matthew Bourne's Matthew Bourne's "Romeo and Juliet" (LG Arts Center)

"Some people (might) be surprised to see these issues portrayed in a dance production."

Bourne said the project was focused on both young dancers and young creatives in all departments. To make the ultimate first love story about young people, he listened to what they had to say and was inspired by their talents and viewpoints.

"It’s true that, at times, our 'Romeo and Juliet' is not an easy watch, particularly around Juliet’s harrowing story. But I do feel that it's important to face the realities of the story we are telling. It takes on some extremely serious and relevant contemporary themes."

Matthew Bourne's Matthew Bourne's "Romeo and Juliet" (LG Arts Center)

Although the story takes a tragic turn, Romeo and Juliet's pure and passionate love is expressed in a pas de deux that is often dubbed as the "longest-ever kiss" in dance history.

"When young people fall in love it is very lusty and they cannot keep their hands off each other -- fumbling toward that first kiss," said Bourne.

"I wanted to capture that youthful excitement so that audiences remember what it was like for them as teenagers to fall in love for the first time."

Choreographer Matthew Bourne (Johan Persson) Choreographer Matthew Bourne (Johan Persson)

Renowned for his creative, modern reinterpretations of classical ballet, Bourne, a nine-time Olivier Award winner, has consistently challenged conventions. In his 1995 production of “Swan Lake,” he introduced muscular male swans. In his 2012 production of "Sleeping Beauty," he included vampires.

“I don’t see the point of just doing tame versions of things all the time. It’s dull for the audience too. I think audiences want to be challenged a little and have some surprises along the way. I’m not interested in shocking people, but I think surprises are very important.”

The choreographer said that working in nonverbal storytelling made him "very brave" about changing the piece into something very adventurous and "taking the Shakespeare out of Shakespeare in a dance production."

Bourne also encouraged audiences to engage with the ambiguity of the dance, and to just trust their instincts and follow the storytelling.

“A lot of audiences fear that there is some secret language they need to understand or they will not be able to follow the story without reading a lot of information before they come,” he said.

“My way of working is to make a story that people need no prior knowledge to follow. It’s my job to tell you the story. Audiences need to trust their instincts too. There are no rights and wrongs, only what each individual sees."