We’ve just completed the first two weeks of research and development on our new production of Romeo+ Juliet, and its been an absolute revelation to me!
I started the first week with just Mayowa and Subhash, the dancers who are playing Romeo and Juliet. We spent a lot of time improvising, digging deeply into our emotions, and then exploring the emotional structure of the play- seeking out the depth, the highs and the lows the two character undergo- everything from pure love, pure joy, to rage, despair and ultimately sacrifice. It was exciting to see them meet each other- as dancers, and as characters. Due to Covid restrictions, we are extremely careful, and even in duet work, the dancers hardly touch each other (or for a maximum of 15 minutes at a time and only after a change of clothes). While this is a tough working condition, and not one that I am used to, it gave a very careful, exploratory and hesitate quality to the dancers first love duet. In these times, touch literally IS dangerous, but to Romeo + Juliet, this forbidden love is also truly dangerous. It is a fascinating time to be exploring love and touch together across divides.
We then spent two days with The M’s; Subhash was joined by Deepraj, Ayesha and Patrick, and we followed a similar pattern; improvising, exploring the deep emotions relevant to their character arc through the narrative, and deeply going into their roles. We made a signature dance together, one that has unique qualities to The M’s. The second week started with two days with The C’s, a very different group of people, improvising, exploring, talking and thinking with Mayowa joined by David, Ben, Iona and Harry. The C’s want to be the top group (in the story); and I was excited to see how it would feel when finally, the two groups met together.
On the last three days all nine dancers came together. Day 1 was all about play, and getting to know each other- it was important that the two groups didn’t feel separate, but started off from place of sharing, exploration and trust. We then spent a lot of time improvising and adding in small elements of the narrative into improvisations- it was fascinating how people reacted instinctively, and found reactions with each other. With everyone having studied their character and their narrative journey, it was easy to start to explore dynamics between each other, and we set to, making short studies of relationships and friendships, establishing our friends, family and love interests.
On the Thursday, I decided to try to sketch some of these studies together, using also the short dance routines we had made in our groups, and some of the elements I’d seen in the improvisations. Adding in the music of Berlioz’s score of Romeo + Juliet, which at first had seemed rather grandiose, suddenly worked with nine dancers eating up the space. The Berlioz gave the dancers an operatic quality- they filled it with their stories and their dynamics. Other music I experimented with was some of Annie Mahtani’s scores from previous productions, and the trap and the pop music seen in the short video clip will not be used- it just helped us find a rhythm and a style together.
The dancers are deeply engaged with their characters, their role in the narrative and the deeper meanings of our interpretation of Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. I would describe the dancers as co-researchers- as they are doing more than devising material, and doing more than collaborating with me. They are filling every moment of this production with a carefully nuanced approach to a character, who moves, lives and breathes through the show. Its a slow process, with everyone involved at each stage.
On the final day we were joined by company dramaturg Ben Payne, who introduced his role and helped give some clarity as to how to make decisions about your character, how to explore your own lived experience within the role and discussed the draft synopsis with us all again. We were also joined by acclaimed Birmingham actor Dylan Duffus, and I was pleased to get his reaction of this story feeling real, feeling authentic and totally understandable! He told the dancers that he was left with goosebumps as we’d captured the right vibe for the story to feel real.
Looking back now, a week later, I’m struck by how much dance we have created- it feels large scale, epic, and I’m pleased that we’ve found a language and a way of working together where everyone dances as themselves yet also together. As I said to the dancers- it is a company of soloists, who are also an incredible ensemble. I’m excited to be continuing this collaborative journey with the company in January.
Rosie Kay, December 2020
Romeo + Juliet will premiere on 17 March at Birmingham Hippodrome.
In association with Birmingham Hippodrome. Supported by The John Feeney Charitable Trust. May 2018 research and development supported by University of Birmingham.