Shakespeare has provided plenty of inspiration for choreographers —Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream spring to mind — but The Winter’s Tale, one of his later plays, has never before been transformed into a ballet. So it is all credit to Christopher Wheeldon that he has managed to distil the complex narrative into an evening of dance.
Created only four years ago, it is now back at the Royal Opera House and is a welcome addition to the Royal Ballet’s repertoire: colourful, dramatic and containing plenty of opportunities for corps, soloists and principals. It does not succeed completely — Joby Talbot’s music often jars and no one will leave humming any of the melodies — but the story moves at a swift pace and there is much to admire in this tale of love, loss and reconciliation.
The sets, by Bob Crowley, are particularly impressive, especially in Act Two when a giant, ornamented tree dominates the entire stage; and you will never see Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction —“Exit, pursued by a bear” — done on a grander scale.
The choreography is inventive, with Wheeldon employing classical vocabulary but putting his own spin on it. He is a fan of the fully flexed (as opposed to pointed) foot, and its use brings an original touch to the dancing.
The leads vary throughout the run. At the performance I saw, Ryoichi Hirano was an impressive Leontes, marking his descent into obsessive jealousy with jagged, frenzied movements. Lauren Cuthbertson was moving as his wronged wife, Hermione (and full marks for dancing with a prosthetic pregnancy bump, which must throw her off her usual centre of balance).
Sarah Lamb and Vadim Mutagirov shone as the happy young couple Perdita and Florizel. Their lively dancing in the second act was a delightful counterpoint to the tragic happenings of the first.
The Winter’s Tale is at the Royal Opera House until March 21. There will be a live screening at selected cinemas on February 28.