By Tara Bennett
As their final performance for the 2014-2015 season, Of Moving Colors (OMC)’s “Romeo and Juliet” will serve as the dance company’s first foray into adapting a Shakespearean play into a contemporary dance piece.
OMC Artistic Director Garland Goodwin Wilson has always been a fan of Shakespeare, and felt it was the right time to create the show when she was approached to do Romeo and Juliet specifically.
“I think it was the right choice for the company to make as our first endeavor,” said Wilson. “It [was] such a good process that we’re looking to establish it as part of a long term rhythm to our season.”
This is not the first time Romeo and Juliet has been taken from the stage. As Shakespeare’s most famous play, Romeo and Juliet has been depicted in film, TV, Broadway musicals, and ballet. According to Wilson, the movements in OMC’s production contrast greatly to the movements found in the traditional ballet. Another noted contrast to the ballet is the number of people. Whereas the Bolshoi ballet sees a cast of 200, OMC’s production has a cast of 16. However, Wilson notes that the concept is the same.
“We have done our best to bring the integrity of the story to the stage, but the approach and point of view is contemporary,” said Wilson.
“Garland is all about trying to show you human quality in dance, which makes dance more approachable to the average person,” said Will Bove, who plays Romeo. “So it’s not really about trying to show some really dramatic piece of literature onstage, it’s more about showing all the human qualities in a character in a really contemporary way.” A big part of the process for the show was stripping it down to the necessary components. The show is performed without dialogue, and according to Wilson this choice was interesting because it meant determining what was important visually, and how to translate some of the really significant dialogue through movement.
“Sometimes that’s been really organic and sometimes you have to find that unspoken voice for the dancer or for the scene that you are attacking,” said Wilson. “Hopefully we’ve created a vocabulary of movement that’ll translate into telling the story.”
Starring as the pair of star-crossed lovers are OMC veteran dancers Bove and Courtney Landry. This is Landry’s sixth year dancing with OMC, who also began choreographing for the company in her third year. Bove is also a regular of OMC and is one of the company’s youngest members.
Performing as the world’s most well-known couple can be challenging, with a need for great chemistry in order to be successful. Bove and Landry agreed they are quite close both on and off of the stage, which Landry described as “very comforting.” “He’s probably the one person that I feel most comfortable with doing the duets, only because we’re pretty close outside of dance, so our chemistry is kind of off the charts,” said Landry.
“She’s one of my best friends,” said Bove. “It wasn’t difficult to work with her at all because we’re so comfortable with one another. I think that will be evident in the show for the audience members.”
“I am so proud of our Romeo and Juliet,” said Wilson. “They have embraced their characters, they’ve embraced their connection, they’re moving differently than they’ve ever moved in a show before, and I think that is because they are playing these characters that have meaning behind their names. They’re just doing an exquisite job. They have really taken on the essence of Romeo and Juliet, and they’re just stellar performers. I think audiences are in for a treat when they get to know these characters.”
According to Wilson, most of the dancers do not have acting backgrounds, so they needed to learn how they were alike and different from their characters in order to bring them to life, which Bove agrees brings out the human quality in the show.
“We don’t have grand sets, or grand costuming, we’re not trying to be some period piece, and I think that’s what sets it apart,” said Bove.
OMC has partnered with several choreographers to create a few of the famed scenes for the show. Wilson, Landry, Carrie Tatum and Bethany Jones round out the local choreographers along with two guest choreographers. New York City-based Pavel Zustiak, artistic director of Palissimo, recently completed a choreographic residency with OMC and created introductory scenes for the cast of characters, as well as the ball scene where Romeo first meets Juliet. John Allen, associate professor of dance at Tulane University, created the famed balcony scene.
To create the production, Wilson collaborated with Bennett Seymour to create a set conceived by OMC dancer Craig Messina that could unfold like an old storybook and then become whatever setting is needed for the show, whether it’s a street or the balcony. “It just feels exactly like we were on a balcony and we were just in love with each other,” said Landry. “It just feels right and perfect for me.”
Romeo and Juliet premieres April 21 and 22 at the Manship Theatre in the Shaw Center for the Arts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost from $13 to $35 and are available through the Manship Theatre ticket desk. Visit manshiptheatre.org or call 225-344-0334.
“I think this is a great way to introduce everyone to OMC,” said Bove.
“Hopefully everyone will get swept away,” said Landry.