Australian Dance Reviews

L.A. Dance Project’s ‘Romeo and Juliet Suite’: A must-see interpretation of a classic

L.A. Dance Project in 'Romeo & Juliet Suite' at Sydney Opera House. Photo by Daniel Boud.
L.A. Dance Project in 'Romeo & Juliet Suite' at Sydney Opera House. Photo by Daniel Boud.

Sydney Opera House, Sydney.
5 June 2024.

Choreographer Benjamin Millepied and L.A. Dance Project presented a gripping reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s timeless classic in his version, Romeo and Juliet Suite, at Sydney Opera House Joan Sutherland Theatre on opening night, Wednesday, June 5th. 

Fresh from its acclaimed Parisian run, this production brought a daring amalgamation of cinema, dance and theatre to the stage, infusing Romeo and Juliet with a contemporary resonance. Accompanied by Prokofiev’s timeless score, the tale of star-crossed lovers pulsated with raw emotion and intricate melodies, unearthing the layers of passion and sensitivity inherent in the narrative.

Central to this reinterpretation was the groundbreaking casting of a male Romeo (David Adrian Freeland Jr.) and male Juliet (Mario Gonzalez), a departure from tradition that challenged preconceptions and celebrated love in all its forms. Future performances will explore the story with female/female and male/female pairings, broadening the spectrum of representation on stage.

Harnessing cutting-edge technology, the production dissolved the boundaries between stage and screen, immersing the audience in moments of intimate connection. The seamless integration of live footage and stagecraft created a dynamic interplay as the performance unfolded, inviting spectators to experience the unfolding drama from unexpected vantage points within the Sydney Opera House.

Behind the scenes, the production’s innovative approach extended to clever angles and gritty moments, cleverly utilising the architecture and surroundings to enhance the emotional resonance of the narrative. In doing so, it offered a fresh perspective on a timeless tale, inviting audiences to journey beyond the confines of traditional theatre and into a realm where love knows no bounds.

What distinguishes this production is its dedication to embracing diversity and inclusivity onstage, carving out room for a queer love story within the well-known framework of Romeo and Juliet. This interpretation liberates itself from conventional norms through a minimalist approach to sets and an immersive invitation to the audience into the character’s inner world. It boldly challenges traditional boundaries by redefining character dynamics, elevating performance standards, enriching visual narratives, and reimagining spatial arrangements. In this bold departure from convention, the production breathes new life into a classic tale and pioneers a path toward broader horizons in the theatrical landscape.

The production opens with a captivating scene as the ensemble of dancers trickle onto the stage, their movements seamlessly captured by Associate Artistic Director Sebastian Marcovici and projected onto a screen above. This innovative approach offers the audience an intimate glimpse into the dancers’ expressions and emotions, personally immersing them in the performance. As the scene unfolds, the perspective shifts to an overhead view, revealing the intricate choreography, floor patterns, and spacing from a new dimension. This dynamic presentation not only enhances the audience’s appreciation for the artistry of the performers but also adds depth and complexity to the piece, inviting viewers to explore the nuances of the dance from multiple angles.

An intriguing interplay unfolded between Romeo and Juliet, creatively utilizing space, time and dimension both onstage and onscreen. While Juliet gracefully danced on stage, Romeo remained offstage, reclining on a sofa in slumber. The audience witnessed Romeo’s dream state through an inverted camera angle as he reached out towards his beloved Juliet, blurring the boundaries between reality and imagination. This innovative approach challenged traditional ballet interpretations, offering a thought-provoking exploration of connection and introspection within the narrative. 

Three moments of sheer brilliance illuminated the performance, leaving an indelible mark on the audience’s memory. First among them was the mesmerising club scene, where dancers seamlessly transitioned backstage. A gritty underground vibe sculpted the space under the atmospheric glow of low-lit surroundings, created vividly by Lighting Director François-Pierre Couture. Against a backdrop of disco ball reflections and red lighting, dancers creatively framed the space with their bodies, moving fluidly in and out of the camera’s view. In this immersive setting, Romeo and Juliet broke away, embarking on a thrilling dash through the Opera House Auditorium — an unprecedented experience for regular venue patrons. This unexpected twist added an exhilarating layer to the performance, leaving the audience curious to see how it would unfold.

As the narrative unfolded, the audience was led through winding corridors and hidden corners, immersing themselves in the drama. Suddenly, they were transported to the exterior of the Opera House, marking the beginning of the second most mesmerising moment. 

Against the backdrop of the city skyline, the two dancers raced across the balcony, their movements intertwining as they delved deeper into the depths of their love. With the iconic sails of the Opera House as their backdrop, every detail of the architecture was accentuated, from the intricate tiling to the texture of the building’s facade, creating a truly unique setting.

For David Adrian Freeland Jr., this moment offered an opportunity to showcase his softer, more vulnerable side — a fusion of emotions that resonated deeply with the essence of queer male relationships. This sentiment was beautifully captured in the choreography, which seamlessly blended classical lines with gravity-defying leaps, curved motifs and lifts. As they moved across the space, both performers embraced the full spectrum of their emotions, captivating the audience with every graceful movement and heartfelt expression.

An intense moment unfolded after the fight scene, as Romeo discovered the tragic aftermath of Tybalt’s (Lorrin Brubaker) confrontation with Mercutio (Shu Kinouchi). Driven by grief and anguish, Romeo pursued Tybalt down the backstage stairs, consumed by a desire for retribution. While the scene may have elicited unease in light of recent events in Sydney, it provided an alternative take on the story, shedding new light on the complexities of revenge and remorse.

Following this harrowing sequence, the choreography between Romeo and Juliet’s lifeless body in the death scene took centre stage – backstage – captivating the audience with its raw emotion and profound symbolism. Through weight-bearing movements that required complete trust and vulnerability, the performers conveyed the depth of their characters’ connection, transcending the boundaries of life and death. In this haunting moment, the enduring power of love and sacrifice resonated with sorrowful clarity, leaving a lasting impression on all who witnessed it.

Camille Assaf’s costume design was a captivating fusion of textures and tones, showcasing a blend of muted and bold dark hues. Each garment added depth and dimension to the visual narrative, from tie-dye tops to lace tights, leather pants to shimmering fabrics, and pleated skirts. Against the vast stage space, framed by side-stage lighting and production equipment, these costumes created a striking contrast, drawing the audience’s attention with their intricate details and dynamic interplay of light and shadow.

In addition to the costumes, the use of portable fluorescent lights by the dancers added another layer of drama to the performance. These lights carefully choreographed to move with the dancers, created a dynamic interplay of illumination, allowing the space to contract and expand with each movement. This added an element of visual spectacle to the production, enhancing the overall atmosphere and heightening the audience’s sensory experience.

For those enamoured with the timeless tale of Romeo and Juliet, this interpretation is an absolute must-see, destined to become a favourite addition to your bucket list. The innovative use of live filming seamlessly bridges the gap between stage and screen, offering a groundbreaking theatrical experience that will leave a lasting impression.

L.A. Dance Project’s Romeo and Juliet Suite makes its Australian premiere in a strictly limited exclusive season at the Sydney Opera House from June 5-9. Visit to reserve your seats.

By Renata Ogayar of Dance Informa.

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