Dance review: The Winter’s Tale: ‘A modern masterpiece’

Don’t miss this enchanting production


Viola Pantuso and Joseph Sissens in The Winter's Tale (Photo: Alice Pennefather)

The Winter’s Tale


Royal Opera House

Shakespeare is a rich source of inspiration for choreographers, with various interpretations of Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream regularly performed around the world. The Winter’s Tale is one of his later plays and its story is not so familiar to audiences, but Christopher Wheeldon’s enchanting interpretation is back on the Royal Opera House stage ten years after it first made an appearance.

A three-act ballet for the whole company is a bit of a rarity nowadays – such ventures inevitably involve a degree of a financial risk, whereas the old favourites such as Tchaikovsky’s big three (Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker) are guaranteed to play to packed houses. But Wheeldon’s work is a modern masterpiece with scenery, music and above all, dancing, meshing together beautifully.

I must admit, when I first heard Joby Talbot’s music, I found it jarring and certainly there are no memorable melodies, but this time around it feels more in tune with the narrative. (The story is rather complex, so a quick read of the programme notes before curtain up is a good idea.)

Ten years on from its premiere, audiences are treated to new casts in the main roles. Just as in Othello, jealousy plays a major part in moving the story along, with tragic consequences, and this most destructive emotion gives Matthew Ball as Leontes, plenty of opportunity to combine powerful dancing with equally devastating acting.

At the performance I saw, Marianela Nunez was a fine Hermione, showing serenity rather than forgiveness at the end. Due to William Bracewell’s injury, Joseph Sissens as Florizel and Viola Pantuso as Perdita made early debuts. We all knew that Sissens could pull off the fireworks required in Act II, but Pantuso was a revelation. Still in the corps, she displays a fine jump and easy grace in everything she does. The irrepressible joy in their dancing was wonderful to behold – and she is also quite beautiful.

The exuberant dancing in Act II provides welcome relief to the dramas of the first and third acts, with Bob Crowley’s clever designs working well. And if you want to see how Shakespeare’s famous stage direction – “Exit, pursued by a bear” – is tackled, you will just have to go and see it.

The Royal Ballet in The Winter’s Tale is at the Royal Opera House until June 1

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