Unmistakably, unchangeably, unforgettably Juliet. A dream role for any dancer, but not typically the first. Bryony Wood, aged only nineteen, rebels from this convention. On Saturday 22nd June at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, Bryony made her professional début as the eponymous protagonist for Matthew Bourne’s adaptation of the notorious Shakespeare play – Romeo and Juliet or ‘R+J’ as it is more commonly referred to by the company.
Bubbly, energetic, warm and lively, I had the pleasure of speaking to this talented young performer and good friend of mine about her very first contract in a professional touring dance company.
It “still doesn’t feel real!”, she opens our conversation with. Landing a principal role whilst still training in her third year at Tring Park School for the Performing Arts is an idyllic phenomenon for a student. Bryony first became engaged in the production from an email which outlined New Adventure’s national search for young talent for their unique new show.
She applied for the opportunity which attracted over 1000 applicants and shortly after received a phone call from Paul Smethurst, Rehearsal Director of the Young Cast, expressing the companies interest in her. Attending a further day of workshopping at Three Mills Studios with the principal dancers of the company, Bryony received an email from Matthew Bourne himself asking her to be a part of the full production.
The transition from dance student to professional dancer she felt was a “smooth and easy jump for me”, you “get really close (with your colleagues) on tour and chat for hours!”. She describes the company as having a really “healthy working environment”, expressing that it feels like she is part of a “family unit” that “really looks after you”. Comically, she explains that one of the only main changes she has noticed in comparison to her training days is that she barely wears leotards now! However, she does explain how she has had to grow up quickly. “Every man is for themselves!” she jokes.
Bryony was initially inspired by her already dancing older sisters to join in with ballet classes when she was just three years of age. Surprisingly, she was turned away by her teacher initially because she was too naughty. “My mum always tells that story!” she playfully remarks.
Bryony notices she has always been surrounded by dance, growing up with it in her family, she tells me it is “built into her.” It seems Bryony has always been destined for a stage career. “My mum always said I’d be an actress…I love acting and being someone else on stage.” Fortunately, an establishment like Bourne’s epitomises the versatility of dance companies in their modern blend of theatre and dance. I believe it is this element of New Adventures that Bryony may have “fallen in love” with.
Teching ‘R+J’ sometimes required working from 11am – 10pm, however Bryony is incessantly positive about her time with the company. It is such a “big show to tech and to tidy up”, but she does not seem at all phased by the long days for she says she is surrounded by “so many inspirational people”. She also explains that whole time is not spent actively dancing. When not performing, she sits in the audience, takes notes and discusses artistic options for her characters.
There are two sets of casts for the show; The ‘Capulet’ cast and the ‘Montague’ cast. Bryony, one of the Montague tribe, describes having this distance from the show and seeing the work come together on another set of people as a “special opportunity.” She is amazed by how much she has grown herself from watching the work develop in this way – “it is always a proactive time…I am always learning.”
Bryony claims working for Bourne is “so much more than what (she) expected.” Playing Juliet, as anticipated, takes her on an emotional rollercoaster the whole way through the show, constantly shifting between points of terror, pain and overwhelming happiness to tragic moments of desperate sadness. Bryony characterises Juliet as quite naive, youthful and desperately in love, in keeping with the traditional, beautiful 13 year old of the original story. Her romanticised interpretation contrasts some of the other Juliet characters who focus more on her bravery and autonomy in her bold decisions.
‘R+J’ is such a character driven production that building this personal connection with the character is a vital in-depth study for the cast. Storyboards, polaroid photos, and discussing the traits, context and relationships with all the other characters all add up to the essential character analysis needed to inform the physical movement. Associate Artistic Director – Etta Murfitt, Resident Young Choreographer – Arielle Smith and of course Matthew Bourne himself have all worked closely with the company on these sort of creative tasks to make this show work physically and emotionally.
Bryony was assigned another role in the production as well as her Juliet début. Alternating between the protagonist and Dorcus, a close friend of Juliet’s whom did not featured in Shakespeare’s original script, has kept the show refreshing and exciting, “especially on double show days”, Bryony exclaims! Dorcus, an uplifting yet fiery character, is “fun to play but the opposite of myself”, Bryony asserts.
Fervent, sexually driven and even boisterous at times, she totally contrasts from the artistic decisions in place for Juliet. Bryony premièred this character in Bradford, the first stop on the ‘R+J’ tour. She reflects on the performance as a very special moment to reveal this new character with the world after such a long creation process.
So what’s next for this extraordinary artist? Ambitious and creative, Bryony says she would love to come back to the company in the near future and do more productions with them, but would also love to try more in the music and acting industries. One thing is for sure, “there is too much free will in (Bryony) to be doing anything mundane!”
I asked Bryony if she could sum up the show in a few words, which proved a difficult task. “It is so many words!” she replies, “it is something new, it hits you, it is powerful, sorrowful, striking, desperate and innovative.” It certainly does seem like one not to miss!
Some advice from Bryony for her younger self, for future dancers and for all:
- Don’t sweat the small stuff, look at the bigger picture.
- Other people’s opinions don’t matter, you won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, so don’t get hung up on it.
- You are only human and can only do your best.
- Live in the present not the future, you have to just live it otherwise you won’t enjoy yourself. It is important to make every second count.
Getting to perform in such a world renowned company is such an achievement for a young artist, but I am sure this is just the start for Bryony’s dance journey. For now, I wish her the best of luck for the remaining productions of ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Catch Bryony in her next performances with the Montague Cast at Sadler’s Wells, London 7-31 August.
Images: Pamela Raith.