Anita’s Eye on the Rodeo – Juliet and Romeo – Decidedly Jazz Danceworks – DJD Dance Centre
From the moment the curtains open and we see a duet in the parking lot across the street, Juliet and Romeo compels the audience with wit and intensity, its choreographic élan, smooth live jazz and talented dance ensemble.
Getting back to the parking lot. The theatre has a floor-to-ceiling window facing out onto the downtown city scape. DJD artistic director and choreographer Kim Cooper saw the creative possibilities this offers. And she uses to it to brilliant effect. Lit by car headlights, flashlights and other natural looking lights, a confrontation between two men takes place and escalates into a fight. Effective realism, as I heard one audience member mention that for a second, she thought the scene was real.
It’s the first of a several and varied fight sequences we see throughout the performance, which have a Westside Story teen-age gang feel to them. Indeed, the tale of Romeo and Juliet is age-old and oft told – two fueding families, star-crossed lovers. DJD enacts Pyramus and Thisbe, an ancient telling of the tale, as a story within a story in Juliet and Romeo, as adapted and narrated by Corey Bowles, DJD alumnus and multimedia artist.
Bowles is a charismatic narrator, shifting easily from dark and threatening to whimsical and humorous. He moves us through his story with intensity — and and as a dancer himself, becomes part of the dance ensemble during sections. His story is quirky, at times quite brilliant, sometimes wacky, always compelling. Don’t expect to follow a linear narrative. This show is definitely inspired by Shakespeare’s play, but by no means attempts to stay on script.
The set consists mainly of a scaffold, which the dancers use to sidle around, climb, hang from and dance on. The superb jazz ensemble plays from atop the scaffolding. Four musicians — percussion, horns, strings — create an atmosphere that drives the dancing and responds to it equally. They set the tone, from horn-heavy dangerous and driven to the deep, sweet romance of the strings.
Choreographically, the show is masterful. From the fight scenes to romantic duets, and in solos, duets and ensemble movement — Cooper injects her stylish, elegant sensibility that makes every dancer seem to be born into the role. She has the great privilege of working with talented dancers whose bodies she understands and who so clearly share her feel for the jazz form. In Juliet and Romeo, Cooper’s choreography switches up pace and mood to keep us engaged, even enthralled. She continues to set the bar higher for herself.
This collaboration between Cooper and Bowles produces a near seamless performance that leaves the audience energized and appreciative of the artistry behind the well realized piece of theatre.
Bravo. Definitely go see Juliet and Romeo. Become a fan of DJD, a home grown treasure.