Another breathtaking opening night from the Royal Ballet! Thanks to QPAC, we were able to see the incredible debut of The Winter’s Tale. Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon to music by Joby Talbot, the ballet was presented as a co-production with the National Ballet of Canada. The Queensland Symphony Orchestra brilliantly performed Talbot’s atmospheric score, conducted for this production by Alondra de la Parra.
Wheeldon’s choreography was quite contemporary, utilising a lot of floor work and complex lifts, despite the more traditional structure of the ballet. Based on Shakespeare’s late romantic play of the same name and adhering closely to its plot, The Winter’s Tale speaks to the destructive power of jealousy. Leontes, King of Sicilia, wrongly accuses his wife Hermione and his boyhood friend Polixenes, the King of Bohemia, of having an affair. The effects of this accusation escalate rapidly, and Leontes soon finds himself alone – his friends alienated, his newborn daughter abandoned, and his wife and son dead. The play ends, as many of Shakespeare’s romantic works do, with rejoicing and reconciliation as the lost princess is found, Leontes and Polixenes forgive one another, and Hermione is revealed to be miraculously alive.
The Winter’s Tale is very much a ‘story ballet’, relying heavily on the dancers’ physical acting ability as well as their balletic technique and skill. The Royal Ballet dancers certainly delivered on this; particularly powerful was the scene in which Hermione is sentenced by her husband, and both she and their son Mamillius are pronounced dead. Jenson Blight did a fantastic job as the young Prince Mamillius, sharing the role with several other young Brisbane ballerinos over the course of the season – an incredible opportunity for aspiring young dancers.
Marianela Nunez was appropriately regal as the queen Hermione, fluid and graceful with beautiful extensions. Her chemistry with King Leontes (danced expressively by Bennet Gartside) and King Polixenes (performed with strength and acrobatic grace by Ryoichi Hirano) was palpable. Laura Morera gave a standout performance as Paulina, head of Queen Hermione’s household, dancing with incredible emotion and flawless technique excepting a fall from en pointe in Act 1. However, her recovery was graceful and it seemed that she barely missed a beat as she transitioned to the next portion of choreography. Truly a professional.
Another exceptional performance was given by first soloist Beatriz Stix-Brunell, who danced as Perdita, the lost princess of Sicilia. Seemingly featherlight, she displayed gorgeous elevation, perfect poise, and precise footwork without slipping from her character. Her playful pas de deux with her lover Florizel (danced by Vadim Muntagirov) beneath the great tree was particularly lovely.
The shepherd and his son, who find and raise the abandoned Perdita, (danced by Gary Avis and Luca Acri, respectively) were fantastic characters, and Acri’s energetic duet with the young shepherdess (Yasmine Naghdi) in Act 2 was excellent.
One of theatre’s most famous directions – “exit, pursued by a bear” – originated in Shakespeare’s play The Winter’s Tale, and this scenario was recreated in Wheeldon’s ballet using swirling silks designed by Basil Twist. Silks were also used to create the effect of undulating waves and longship sails as the characters raced across the ocean between Bohemia and Sicilia. Video projections designed by Daniel Brodie were also used to show the passage of the ships, and lighting design by Natasha Katz really brought the stage to life. Designer Bob Crowley has also done incredible work to breathe life and colour into this ballet.
The Royal Ballet has delivered another awe-inspiring visual delight with The Winter’s Tale, vastly different from Woolf Works but maintaining the same sky-high quality of performance and attention to detail. The season will close on Sunday, July 9, and I’d really recommend seeing it if you can!