What’s in ABT’s ‘Woolf Works,’ soon at Segerstrom?


We’ve been seeing intriguing images, not to mention advertisements, including ones running here on artsmeme, for American Ballet Theatre‘s new production of Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works, playing at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in five performances, April 11 – 14. Inspired by the writings of Virginia Woolf — an author this woman writer so greatly admires, Woolf Works is a spellbinding fusion of literature and dance by McGregor, with a luminous original score by Max Richter. What’s it all about?

Woolf Works “recreates the collision of form and substance at play in her novels (‘Mrs. Dalloway’; ‘Orlando’; and ‘The Waves’), while bringing to life her world where human beings are at once physical body and uncontained essence.” So describes the advance copy.

Woolf Works is not a literal description of Woolf’s writing,” says its creator Wayne McGregor. “It’s very lavish, with new visualization techniques and a collage structure: a full-on assault and collision of the senses. The idea was to choreograph and design the piece in the spirit of Woolf’s writing, in an unfolding stream of consciousness, rather than as a literal translation of the novels’ narratives.” This sounds groundbreaking and spectacular not to mention a beautiful retreat from the very gnarly world in which we find ourselves living.

Woolf Works was first seen at London’s Royal Opera House on May 11, 2015 to be met with outstanding critical acclaim and going on to win McGregor the Critics’ Circle Award for Best Classical Choreography, and the Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production.

The New York Times said of its 2015 premiere, “a compelling trilogy of works that together form a resonant, layered meditation on time and memory … McGregor has thought big, and he has created a work that is entertaining, absorbing, not always easy, and occasionally contentious. That’s the (Woolfian) spirit.” Eight years on, in 2023, The Guardian said, “Woolf Works is a beauty – a ballet of ravishing feeling and radical intellectual intent.”

Three ABT principals will dance the role of Woolf – Devon Teuscher, Hee Seo, and Gillian Murphy — emboding Virginia Woolf in dance. We’re getting the U.S. premiere in southern California, It will be ABT’s summer offering at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York where it will be a hot ticket. Segerstrom is offering marvelous ticket deals and we will be among those first audiences to see this intriguing work.

American Ballet Theatre’s Woolf Works | with Pacific Symphony | Segerstrom Center for the Arts | April 11 – 14

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