The Royal Ballet’s The Winter’s Tale by Christopher Wheeldon and Joby Talbot

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The Winter’s Tale is another superb collaboration between Christopher Wheeldon and Joby Talbot in a co-production by the Royal Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada. It is a full-length ballet based on the Shakespeare play.

The sudden fixation by Leontes that Hermione has been unfaithful is the psychological trauma around which the drama unfolds. It is this devastating loss of judgement and reason that Wheeldon must convey because the whole of the story follows from it. And Wheeldon certainly delivers. It is an extraordinary psychological torment that besets Leontes as he descends through anguish, to a state of abject despair and loss of mental and physical strength. The play is brilliantly translated into ballet. We noticed how Leontes’ first soliloquy is dramatically converted into the action of the two kings placing their hands on Hermione’s belly to feel the unborn baby with the ensuing emotional turmoil of jealousy initially expressed in the terrible contorted movements of Leontes’ hands. No temporary episode of madness could have a worse outcome. Leontes inflicts a terrible punishment on Hermione and their new child and the effect of this destroys his small son Mamillius.

In Act Two the youthful antics of the rural folk are all as they should be and within this there is fabulous dancing from James Hay as Florizel and Francesca Hayward as Perdita. Look out in particular for Marcelino Sambé as Brother Clown who recalls another dancer of the Royal Ballet now in his 70s – Wayne Sleep.

The final act of the ballet is a tour-de-force. Wheeldon delivers a pas-de-deux whose tragic dimension overwhelms the awe and amazement that surround the reunion of the couple after their 16-year separation. The emotional spectrum Wheeldon employs to communicate the immensely challenging facts of the reunion is subtle, raw and painful to watch. There is wonderful dancing here from Thiago Soares and Claire Calvert.

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The design of this ballet is beautiful with dark foreboding clouds at the beginning, a wonderful tree for Bohemia, and a sombre setting for the final scene with exquisite dove pinks and greys for costumes. Bob Crawley has done a fantastic job as he did for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Joby Talbot’s score admirably meets the emotional requirements of the story with on-stage musicians playing non-orchestral instruments for the act in Bohemia and beautiful orchestral writing for Hermione and Leontes in the other acts. The final word must be about Christina Arestis who takes the part of Paulina the character who spirits Hermione away to her strange exile and at the same time is the person to whom Leontes returns for comfort. Touches of Martha Graham in relation to hands struck me. The hand is so much the doer and invests a curious power in the part of Paulina. She is a powerful and effective facilitator but in no sense is this a masculine portrayal. This is a brilliant piece of choreography. She has a much more subtle and sensitive power and it is she who enables Leontes to reunite with Hermione and their newly returned daughter, Perdita.

Christopher Wheeldon is the true successor to Kenneth MacMillan.

Highlight of the show – the synthesis of Shakespeare, ballet, music and design to produce a tremendous new work of art.

4/5 WIGS

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