I don’t get to Covent Garden all that often lately. Downstairs to the Linbury Studio experiments, yes, but upstairs? Elegant always, but stately for my current tastes — my dance fix is generally fed by Sadlers Wells these days. Last season’s Royal Ballet encounter with Mayerling — my favorite narrative by far — had been a major disappointment, so I hadn’t jumped on this brand new The Winter’s Tale, had to scramble for a ticket after first positive reviews. Thank goodness I did!
Based on Shakespeare’s play of jealousy gone berserk and ultimate redemption — just in time for the Bard’s 450th birthday and a co-production with the National Ballet of Canada — The Winter’s Tale has been created by the same team responsible for Alice in Wonderland of three seasons past: choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, music by Joby Talbot and design by long-time veteran Bob Crowley. Back in 2011, Alice had the critics dancing for joy, while my reaction had been, save for the sets, a generous dose of “meh?” In The Winter’s Tale, though, in all cases a huge step into the light.
Talbot’s music, not so memorable as Stravinsky or Tchaikovsky, was evocative, effective and sometimes special. Wheeldon’s choreography was heart-rending, sprightly and deeply romantic by turns, with what looked to be a good deal of Martha Graham influence in what in opera would have been recitative and a plethora of chills; a huge advancement in his development I’d say, and it was all so beautiful. Magic galore with misty projections, fluid costumes and silk effects by the American artist Basil Twist. A glorious the palette, sotto voce in the courtly first and third acts, an explosion of colour and light before the second act’s expansive Tree of Life. I saw the second cast (pictured here). Wish I could see the first as well. See it again, and again.
Something for the repertoire then. Beauty piercing the heart.
Candace Allen lives in London. She is the author of ‘Soul Music The Pulse of Race and Music.’
photo credit: ROH / Johan Persson, 2014