The Winter’s Tale, Royal Opera House, ballet review
Friday 11 April 2014
The Winter’s Tale, Christopher Wheeldon’s new work for The Royal Ballet, is half rushed, half lush. Adapting Shakespeare’s romance of jealousy and renewal, Wheeldon canters through the story’s early torments. It’s not until we reach the pastoral second act that the production finds room to breathe.
The Winter’s Tale is The Royal Ballet’s biggest undertaking this year: a full-length new ballet with a new score by Joby Talbot. Wheeldon reunites the music and design team behind his very popular Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and shows a similar readiness to conjure up stage effects. Shakespeare’s celebrated “exit, pursued by a bear” becomes a billowing silk wave – though the bear’s reaching claws aren’t visible from all parts of the house.
A brisk prologue introduces the kings Leontes of Sicilia and Polixenes of Bohemia, Leontes’ marriage to Hermione and the birth of their son Mamilius. It’s clear, streamlined storytelling, but the breakneck pace leaves these characters too anonymous, with rhubarbing gestures for friendship and love. Talbot’s music and Bob Crowley’s stylised, no-period costumes are efficient rather than evocative.
Leontes’ unreasoning jealousy strikes in a fine image: his hand on Hermione’s pregnant bump turns clawlike, a poisonous spider sending twists through the rest of Edward Watson’s writhing body. There are strong echoes of Kenneth MacMillan’s Mayerling, another ballet about a damaged monarch, without the same depth of context. We’ve already seen Lauren Cuthbertson’s pregnant Hermione joining in some brightly athletic choreography – so when Leontes starts manhandling her, it lacks contrast.
As the story moves from wintry Sicilia to Bohemia, the ballet opens up. Crowley’s set is a ravishing green tree, hung with golden charms. At once, we’re in a different world, warmly lit by Natasha Katz, accompanied by a hazy, curling flute solo. Perdita, the baby Leontes rejected, has grown up as a shepherdess, dancing with rippling lines and quirks of foot and elbow.
The Bohemians are, well, bohemian, all bolero jackets, floaty sleeves and touches of Greek folk dance. Dancing with Polixenes’ son Florizel, Perdita winds about his shoulders, and kisses him on the way back down. Sarah Lamb is a serene Perdita, all flowing line, while Steven McRae dances Florizel with ardent energy
Wheeldon’s fluent, classical choreography has some padding, but the atmosphere is wonderful, from the exuberant peasant dancing to the rich clatter of percussion and plucked strings in Talbot’s vivid music, conducted by David Briskin.
The last act brings Sicilia and Bohemia back together, uniting the production’s strengths and weaknesses. Shakespeare ends the ballet with the restoration of Hermione, but Wheeldon’s pas de deux can’t match the magic of its source.
This premiere comes as The Royal Ballet is under stress, in a season full of injuries and cast changes – The Winter’s Tale does have a second cast, but its debut has been postponed. There were no signs of strain on opening night. A strong company performance included Zenaida Yanowsky’s commanding Paulina, Valentino Zuchetti’s exuberant shepherd and Beatriz Stix-Brunell as a fleet-footed shepherdess.
In repertory until 8 May. Box office 020 7304 4000
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food