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REVIEW: Stellar, Riveting Romeo & Juliet (COLLIDE)

Renee Guittar (Juliet) and Rush Benson (Romeo) in a promotional image for COLLIDE Theatrical’s ballet adaptation of Romeo & Juliet.

Staging what is often described as the greatest love story ever told on Valentine’s Day might sound hokey. COLLIDE Theatrical’s ballet setting of William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet is anything but: a thrilling, virtuosic, and riveting walk through a star-crossed romance. Finely tuned and aptly fitted to the expanses of the Cowles Center, this is not only COLLIDE’s best shows in years – it’s one of the hottest entertainment tickets in town.

As with most of COLLIDE’s shows, the score for the ballet is a mashup of various contemporary popular songs, rendered with a pair of vocalists and a live band. COLLIDE’s Artistic Director Regina Peluso choreographed the dynamic show, which frequently fills the vertical as well as horizontal planes as dancers climb, pose, and cavort in a pair of mobile scaffolding platforms.

One of the most thrilling recurring elements in this show are the many dance battles, prominently lead by Mercutio (Joey Miller) and Tybalt (Chelsea Rose). Not only are the warring Montagues and Capulets given distinctive styles and inflections, but so have individual characters within that style. The ensuing stylized brawls are thrilling to watch, a feeling equally propelled by the live band with its arrangements of songs like the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”.

As a contemporary dance company, COLLIDE draws on a host of styles for its various productions. A more surprising entrée in this number was the prominent use of tap with a contemporary twist, one of the styles associated in-show with the Montague family. Interspersed are snapshots of a mayor’s race with projected newspapers and the teenage characters snapping selfies, part of the near-present day setting that fits well into the overall character of the production.

A promotional image for COLLIDE Theatrical’s Romeo & Juliet.

Any Romeo & Juliet lives and dies by the living and dying of its leads. Here, COLLIDE does not disappoint, featuring Rush Benson as Romeo and Renee Guittar as Juliet. Peluso’s direction begins the show with a more disenchanted and disengaged Romeo, the better for his Montague friends Benvolio (Elly Stahlke) and Mercutio (Miller) to slowly lure him out of. Their shared numbers, set to “Uprising”, and “We Found Love”, are show highlights.

As Juliet, Renee Guittar is first introduced in the dynamic and original opening number, which makes great use of projections (Joshua Wallace did the graphic design). Her featured introduction, however, comes in an alluring solo number set to “Wake Me Up”. This spotlight moment is an engrossing, virtuosically delivered, and beautiful study of character. The moment when Benson/Romeo and Guittar/Juliet meet onstage, set to “Wonderwall”, is simply magical. Their final moments, set to “With or Without You”, are heart-tugging, beautiful, and tragic at once.

Romeo & Juliet runs through February 23 at the Cowles Center in Minneapolis, MN.

Basil Considine