Virginia Woolf ballet: Royal Opera House to stage piece based on novels Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves

Virginia Woolf may be portrayed in the new ballet, to be staged by the Royal Opera House

Nick Clark
Tuesday 01 April 2014 11:00 BST
Dream team: Vadim Muntagirov and Akane Takada in ‘The Sleeping Beauty’
Dream team: Vadim Muntagirov and Akane Takada in ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ (Tristram Kenton)

A radical ballet based on the life and works of Virginia Woolf that aims to evoke her “elegiac” writing style is to be the centrepiece of a new season at the Royal Opera House (ROH).

Woolf Works, which is inspired by the novels Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves, will adopt a “non-linear narrative” familiar to readers of the English modernist.

Wayne McGregor, resident choreographer of the Royal Ballet, who is behind the new production, said: “At the end of the day it’s about the language. It is so evocative and elegiac. That sensorial feel lends itself so well to the body.”

While the life of a depressive and ultimately suicidal novelist may not be an obvious topic for a ballet, Woolf experts said the idea had merit.

“The style McGregor is talking about would be very much in keeping with the way Woolf wrote,” said Susan Sellers, Professor of English at St Andrews University

“One of the reasons why she continues to be so important to writers and scholars was she was constantly breaking the rules of narrative. She would approve such a radical approach,” she added.

Alice Wood, lecturer in English literature at the University of Portsmouth, said there was “a lyricism to Woolf’s writing style which may lend itself to dance. There’s a range of emotions built into the text.”

Sarah Hall, of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, said: “Often you find high art in one sphere transfers nicely to another. We’re waiting for the opera next.”

Kevin O’Hare, director of the Royal Ballet, said: “Sometimes you wonder about adapting the works of a writer, where the words are so important, but when you read how Woolf writes there’s a sense of movement. Someone like Wayne can really bring that out, and bring out those feelings and senses.”

It is not clear whether Woolf herself will be portrayed on stage, with the Royal Ballet director saying there “may be someone on stage who represents aspects of her character”.

Woolf, who died in 1941 at the age of 59, was one of the most significant modernist writers of the 20th century.

Woolf Works is to be performed in the summer of next year and leads off the ROH’s 2014/15 season, which was announced yesterday.

Also in the season is the first revival of Carlos Acosta’s production of Don Quixote, and new ballets from Hofesh Shechter and Liam Scarlett. The Christmas production this year will be Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

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