Monday, 25 April 2016

'The Winter's Tale' at The Royal Opera House

Last week I went to see a stunning performance of 'The Winter's Tale' by The Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House. This is my third production of 'The Winter's Tale' in five months (Kenneth Branagh's version followed by the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse production) so I am very familiar with the story of jealousy and reconciliation, a jealousy that emerges from nowhere and destroys people and families. But how would Christopher Wheeldon and the Royal Ballet tell this story? How do you dance jealousy?

The production starts with an energetic and joyful prelude, showing the three protagonists as younger versions of themselves, dancing up a storm before moving to the present day when the boys are kings and Hermione is a queen. Leontes and Hermione have one son and another child is on the way as Hermione dances with her prominent baby bump. Polixenes of Bohemia is, again, a guest and enjoying dancing with his two friends when Leontes starts having suspicions that his wife and friend are lovers and we see his mad jealousy as they dance in the garden of statues and we see through is eyes. That is all the proof he needs and he fights his old friend and arrests his wife on grounds of treason. You know the rest - Hermione gives birth and appears to die while the infant is sent away to die on a foreign shore but is rescued by a shepherd and grows up to fall in love with the prince who just happens to be Politeness' son and they flee back to Sicilia for the big reveal.

The story is relatively straight-forward in that respect but it's underpinned by the nature of kingship, the evils of jealousy and loss, love and reconciliation. But it's how they get there that's fascinating in this production with some great stage effects and plot twists. I loved the 'silkwork' that brought the bear at the end of the first act to life in terrifying form, I loved the sea chases as the young lovers flee to Sicilia and I loved the tree. O yes, what a marvellous tree at the centre of the stage for the celebrations in Bohemia where we have Florizel and Perdita dancing their youthful love. It was a lovely change from the formality of the first half with the natural scene and vivid costumes, the young people dancing and celebrating while the few old folks watched on.

Florizel and Perdita take most of the dancing but are often joined by their young friends, showing off and showing their skills, an elaborate courtship dance.

After a sea chase the young couple seek sanctuary with Leontes and, unlike in the play, we see the big reveal that Perdita is actually his daughter when Paulina recognises that a piece of jewellery she wears was her mothers that she had hidden in the baby's basket when she was taken away. But there is another reveal when Pauline shows Leontes the statue of Hermione and her dead son but, magically, Hermione is still alive and dances a stately forgiveness of her stupid husband. She finally meets her daughter and leaves the stage with just Leontes and Pauline. Leontes touches the statue of his son to see if he will come alive too...

This is a marvellous re-telling of the old tale of winter in the heart, magically re-invented by Christopher Wheeldon and the Royal Ballet. It's a new ballet first performed in 2014 and this was the 15th ever stage performance (it said so on the cast list). The dancers were, of course, marvellous, but I must single out Itziar Mendizabal as the brave Paulina who was the epitome of grace on that stage, every movement building on her character and story and a joy to behold. I'm so pleased I saw her Paulina. Also great praise for Marianela Nunez as Hermione and Bennet Gartside as the wretched Leontes. Vadim Muntagirov and Beatriz Stix- Brunell were also lovely as our young lovers Florizel and Perdita.

As ever, the staging was wonderful, as were the costumes, lighting and music. The music was by Joby Talbot, designer was Bob Crowley and the magnificent silk effects (for the bear and sea chase) were by Basil Twist. This really is a marvellous and magical production and I'm so tempted to go back again if I can get tickets... See this production if you can - you might think you don't like ballet but this could well change your mind.

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