Location: Royal Opera House, London
Date: Monday 11 May 2015
Wayne McGregor, the resident choreographer for the Royal Ballet, has finally made a three act story ballet … and I really, really wanted to like it.
Woolf Works is based on the works of Virginia Woolf and I guess I was starting out at a disadvantage having never read anything by Ms Woolf. However with a well choreographed piece I really shouldn’t have to do homework in preparation. The ‘three act ballet’ was, as the title suggests, split into three separate acts which were titled separately and represented separate novels by Woolf as well as different parts of her life. To me not a cohesiveive three act ballet… more of a trilogy.
‘I Now, I Then’ is the first piece. The music for this section, composed by Max Richter was incredible. It was epic and overarching, including both the orchestra and recorded sounds which mixed together beautifully. Alessandra Ferri took the lead role in this piece at the grand age of 52 (I do not want to be subjecting my body to ballet at 52 so good on her!). She was as beautiful and elegant as any of the other ballerinas on the stage however she did seem to have more of a fragility about her, especially compared to Beatrix Stix-Brunell who seems so robust and powerful on stage you almost feel she might knock everyone else over (in my notes I have Beatrix’s name circled with a 10! next to it, I think I liked her). Federico Bonelli did a wonderful job of partnering both women and Edward Watson was his usual creepy self. I have to say I was truly excited to see the costumes in this piece, proper dresses in a 1930s style and suits for the men.
The choreography however was … poor. I’ve seen it all before! In every other Wayne McGregor piece I’ve ever watched. A twiddly hand here, a wagging foot there, wrap your leg around your head, do a body roll and bob’s your uncle. I find his work too over complicated to ever be emotionally moving and utterly impossible to grasp a story from. A task made even more difficult by the programme, there was no synopsis, not even an explanation of what this piece was trying to achieve. The only writing about the piece was quotes from books I haven’t read and quotes from the choreographer that would have been more at home in an Ikea manual for all the sense they made! Then each of these extracts was overlaid on top of one another one the same page … confusing or what!
Other than using Virginia Woolf as its inspiration ‘Becomings’, the second piece, had absolutely no relation to the first piece at all. The setting for this I will admit was amazing, at one point they bent light! No, seriously, spotlights shining on stage were casting beams of light that bent upwards towards the ceiling. I have no idea how they managed that but if I ever meet Lucy Carter (lighting designer) I will be interrogating her. The costumes were …. Ummm … interesting? Based on, I guess, Elizabethan court dressed they were made out of shiny, gold foil with ruffs, wide underskirts and corsets for both men and women. Just bizarre, in fact they were so strange and impossible to dance in that by the end of the piece most of them had disappeared and we were back to the standard grey t-shirt and pants that seems to fill all of McGregor’s rep. This piece had just about every star of the company thrown at it so really it should have been good but the choreography was exactly the same as the last 34 minutes I had already watched. He seems to have no light and shade to his work, no matter what the music is doing the dancers keep up the same frantic movements without any relation to it. I also have the feeling that by the end of the piece he was running out of ideas. With all the dancers on stage he had them dance in a big circle with a spotlight in the middle. They each ran through the light and performed some massive leap or jump. Then they split into two smaller circles, did the same and then split again… techniques I have seen my students (and me) use when completely out of ideas and trying to kill time…. and that I’ve told them (and me) off for as lazy choreography! In fact it was so obvious it made me laugh… I don’t think the woman next to me was happy.
‘Tuesday’, the third piece, started with a reading of Virginia Woolf’s suicide letter. A letter so beautiful I defy anyone to listen to it without feeling emotional. The movement in this piece was much more fluid and calm (although this may have been the large glass of wine I had in the interval) and the background projection of rolling waves added to this. There was an ensemble of dancers in this piece which made for a much more rounded feeling and I did wonder if this was the first dance choreographed for the show as a whole. It seems to have a beginning and end and contained a beautiful pas de deux with Federico Bonelli and Alessandra Ferri. All in all the best out of the three.
I can’t say that I liked Woolf Works, as much as I wanted to, but given my previous opinions of McGregor’s work he would have had to do something completely out of character to woo me. I find his work positional and frantic with very little space for emotion or feeling and very little light and shade for use of expression. You can see that the dancers love performing his work and the movement looks like it feels great to dance, it’s just disappointing (and slightly boring) to watch! I also think as the resident choreographer for the Royal Ballet he should be using the whole company and have a cast that includes more people than just the stars.