Tackling Romeo set for a new life but we should never forget the performance of Australia’s great dancer, Russell Page

For the last 18 months the director’s cut of the movie, Tackling Romeo, has been seen in private screenings in the United States and more recently in Australia as the producers of a new version of the film seek to raise money for what will be the third incarnation of the film originally called Kick.

I saw a screening last week in Sydney.

The history of Tackling Romeo is convoluted.

Version 1

The film was first released in 1999. Titled Kick, it starred Russell Page as the hero, Matt Grant, a champion rugby player at an elite boys’ school, Rebecca Yates (formerly with the Australian Ballet) as Claire Andrews, playing the role of a dancer, and two other actors well known in the dance world, Paul Mercurio and Kip Gamblin.

The director was Lynda Heys, (much more recently the script editor for last year’s movie, My Mistress.)

Synopsis: Matt is a multi-talented student completing his HSC year at a private boys school on Sydney’s North Shore. He decides to return to his first love, dancing, and to audition for a role in a contemporary dance production of Romeo & Juliet, choreographed by the character David Knight, played by Paul Mercurio.

Matt is successful but he struggles to keep his rehearsals at the dance studio a secret from his clingy girlfriend, teachers, headmaster and fellow students. In the ballet he is partnered with Claire, and they too have to overcome struggles with dancing together.

IMDb lists Paul Mercurio as the choreographer – so confusingly he both plays the role of the choreographer in the movie and was the choreographer for the film’s dance scenes.

The choreography is dated and needs a completely new interpretation. The musical score of the ballet scenes in Kick does not include Prokofiev’s score for Romeo & Juliet.

Now for the mystery. Somewhere between shooting and release as a video, it seems that a distributor sliced the footage and added music that did not fit the choreography. It had a brief cinema screening in Europe before it was released on DVD and video.

Version 2

The website ShowFilmFirst reported last July that the writer-director, Lynda Heys and Steve Turnbull, her producing partner in Faraway Films Entertainment, are making a new version of their 1999 Australian film which they say was ‘destroyed and buried’…

“Turnbull blames the film’s distributor, which he declines to name, for slashing Heys’ 115-minute version to 85 minutes and dumping it on home video.

“It was buried; no one got to see it or hear of it. It was not our film, which was destroyed. It was a terrible incarnation of a script which the FFC described as one of the best they had seen. *

“Thanks to Katherine Heads and the team at Deluxe Australia, all the 35mm footage that was shot was digitally restored, enabling Heys to make her director’s cut.

“That version has been shown to numerous people including choreographer Graeme Murphy and his creative partner, Janet Vernon, who have agreed to work on the new production. Turnbull
also credits Brian Rosen when he was CEO of the FFC with helping them to secure the remake rights”.

Version 3, the remake

Set in Connecticut and New York, the third incarnation will be filmed in the United States. Casting for the two leads has not yet been announced.

The producer, Steve Turnbull, has funds from a Middle East film financier but is also looking for other investors in Australia or the US.

Russell Page

I’d seen Page dancing with Bangarra Dance Theatre and in Bangarra’s collaboration with the Australian Ballet in Rites, choreographed by his brother, Stephen.

But nothing prepared me for the impact of Page’s performance in the director’s cut of Tackling Romeo.

The word awesome has been so overused and so wrongly used that it’s become trite, a cliché. But in the original meaning of the word, Page is truly awesome in his role of Matt, both as an actor and a dancer.

He had everything – immense talent as a dancer, a powerful presence as an actor, and something that’s not easy to describe – a light that seems to shine from within. Despite all the years since the filming of Kick, that light still shines on the screen.

Page died in 2002 aged only 34, taking his own life after the closing performance of Walkabout.

The scenes of his performance in Tackling Romeo need to be archived and available for all to see. Australia lost one of its great artists and there are few images or footage to record his extraordinary talent.

* IMDb lists Kick’s distributors as: The Australian Film Finance Corporation (all media); Beyond Films (all media) and Millennium Storm (2004) (Italy) (video)

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