Monday, 11 May 2015

The Royal Ballet: Woolf Works ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Woolf Works, a brand new production conceived out of the works of 20th century novelist Virginia Woolf, received an outstanding roar of applause and standing ovations at its premier last night. The Royal Ballet’s own resident contemporary choreographer, Wayne McGregor was inspired to fulfil Woolf’s dream of combining her stylistic prose which defied the writing rules of her era with the transformative and emotional powers of dance. McGregor worked tirelessly with Uzma Hameed as the production’s dramaturg to unravel ‘the luminosity, sonorousness and poignancy of [Woolf’s] world.’

With an array of the best principal dancers from the Royal Ballet including Natalia Osipova, Federico Bonelli, Edward Watson and former ballet principal Alessandra Ferri (now aged 52, can you believe?), Woolf Works brings together the flair and multiple perspectives of the author’s non-linear writing through three of her best loved novels – Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves.

Acclaimed British composer Max Richter, who previously collaborated with McGregor on his other ballets, including Infra and Kairos, revealed the delicate tinges of Woolf’s moving works through simple melodies, orchestral influences from minimalist composers, such as Philip Glass and Steve Reich, with structured fusion of electronic and industrial music. Taking turns with Richter’s pre-recording sonic music was the Royal Opera House’s orchestra who were conducted by Koen Kessels with craft and subtlety; as of the start of the 2015/16 season he shall be the new Royal Ballet's music director.

I Now, I Then covers the tale of Mrs Dalloway, which is delicately handled by Ferri. Ciguë and We not I, the stage designers for the entire triptych, have large human-size photo frames rotating for the principals to dance around and stand inside with projections of London and the countryside from Clarrisa’s past. As the frames rotate, one by one the characters flow in just as they had entered Clarrisa’s life in the book. Her puzzling choice of lovers from Sally Seton, which is captured in a kiss shared with British rising star Francesca Hayward, to her first meeting with her husband, Richard Dalloway danced by Bonelli who enraptures her in his arms. The heart-felt trauma characterised in WWI sufferer Septimus Warren Smith is set on fire by the soaring jumps and intensely courageous performances by Edward Watson. Here, the audience get the most out of the Royal Opera House’s orchestra through gripping strings that are tied down to the rhythms of a ticking clock.  

Orlando is a renowned satirical feminist classic, which is shown through the piece Becomings. Male principal dancers are dressed in Moritz Junge's tutus and metallic costumes’ cut from the Elizabethan period. The stage is bare but the dancers have Lucy Carter’s beaming strobe and laser lights shinning above them that turn the Royal Opera House into a nightclub scene, however, Richter’s electronic music is more subversive, slow and reflective of Woolf’s emotive piece. A mesmerizing sight is also shown through a seductive pas de deux that looked as if it had been dragged out of an Alexander McQueen fashion show.

Orlando is a tale about a nobleman who wakes up to find that he has changed into a woman. To abstractly depict this Osipova provides a dazzling solo that grows into eclectic group choreographies with Akane Takada, Melissa Hamilton and Sarah Lamb providing androgynous vibrancy with Steven McRae, Tristan Dyer, Eric Underwood, Matthew Ball, Gary Avis and Watson presenting feminine foot steps and gestures to relive the attributes of the metamorphosed nobleman. The climactic finale is also a thrill with all the dancers assembled into three separate circles and Richter’s score sky rocketing.

The last piece is the shape-shifting Tuesday from the book The Waves that commences with a letter by Woolf read by actress Gillian Anderson. With a video clip of the sea and its waves, audiences watch as children revive our memories of youth as the dancers intertwine and lock together conveying the rich diversity of life. It ends with Ferri supported tenderly by Bonelli who carries her until she lies on the ground signifying the end.

Three carefully created pieces pull together Woolf’s inner consciousness and convey them in dissimilar ways through Richter’s immersive score and McGregor’s daring contemporary style. This is a sensational piece of modern dance that shouldn’t be missed. Don’t waste a moment. Go grab a ticket while you can. 

Photos courtesy of @The Stage. Production ends on May 26th. Click here for more details.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

ROH: Król Roger ★★★★

A new production of Szymanowski’s mystical opera led by powerful singing, creative staging and firm conducting

With fighting austerity and cutting costs across The Royal Opera House, director of opera Kasper Holten recently announced a ‘risk taking’ 2015/16 programme filled with classic and novel operas. This week is no exception as he introduces a new, ambitious yet exquisite production of 20th century Polish composer Karol Szymanowski’s opera, Król Roger, which captures the mysticism and moral questioning that burdens its protagonist, King Roger. 

Written during the turbulent Russian revolution and honed with Mediterranean, Oriental and Byzantine church music, Szymanowski’s opulent masterpiece grapples with deep-rooted concepts through a troubled Christian king and the turn of events that ensue when he encounters a preacher who worships a hedonistic faith.

Steffen Aarfing’s set design of the king’s towering head and Luke Halls’ cosmic video imagery takes shape from an ominous and pitch-black start, which is passionately evoked through soaring conducting by Antonio Pappano. In Act II, the monolithic head becomes the interior of the king’s temple and the macrocosm of his guilt-stricken mind, shown through nude, erotic dancers. 
The production revels in a high quality cast. Mariusz Kwiecień comes on top as baritone singer, revealing the nuances of the king’s complex character. As Roxanna, Georgia Jarman’s hypnotic voice is intensely moving. And Saimir Pirgu adds charisma to the role of the heretic Shepherd, yet sings with a silvery voice.

Royal Opera House, London

May 1-19, PN May 1

Composer: Karol Szymanowski

Conductor: Antonio Pappano

(Librettists: Karol Szymanowski, Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz)

Director: Kasper Holten

Design: Steffen Aarfing (set design), Jon Clark (lighting design), Luke Halls

(video design), Cathy Marston (choreography), John Lloyd Davies


Technical: Chris Harding-Roberts (production manager), Lorna Robinson

(costume supervisor), Emma Turner, Adam Lawley, Jessica Stanton, Aisling

Fitzgerald (stage management)

Cast: Alan Ewing, Agnes Zwierko, Mariusz Kwiecień, Kim Begley, Georgia

Jarman, Saimir Pirgu