“What matters anything so long as one’s step is in time — so long as one’s whole body & mind are dancing too — what shall end it?”Virginia Woolf, early journals
When opening night finally arrived in 2015 of Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works, London was alive with anticipation. There was excitement. But there was also doubt; doubt that Virginia Woolf was well suited to dance, and doubt that the man behind the disappointing Raven Girl could handle her narrative demands.
It didn’t take long to settle the question. Here was a ballet the critics could get behind, winning both an Olivier and a Critics Circle Award for best new dance.
The Woolf Works ballet is in three acts, each dealing with a different slice of the Woolfian oeuvre: Mrs. Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves.
I now, I then opens with the clipped voice of Woolf herself, describing traits of the English language. Meditations on form dissolve into the danced story of Mrs. Dalloway.
In fluttering steps and with a delicacy we haven’t seen from McGregor in some time, the dancers move through the set’s huge wooden frames (by Cigue) as though through windows of time. The past haunts the present.
In Becomings, Max Richter’s score switches to a pulsing beat inspired by the century-hopping, gender-swapping Orlando. On a stage sliced up by Lucy Carter’s lasers, the cast leap through smoke boundaries in an androgynous uniform of gold lamé ruffs and doublets. For better or worse this is trademark McGregor, all aggressive hyperextension and wild contemporary tics.
Third and finally, we come to Woolf herself in Tuesday. Against a really stunning backing film of waves crashing at glacial speed by Ravi Deepres, Helen McCrory reads Woolf’s suicide note. It’s a moment of very real pain in a night of abstracts.
The cast in black masks and diaphanous black crash and wash against Woolf and her partner like the waves that would close over Woolf in her last minutes.
The original cast were a vital part of the 2015 success. Few could resist the liquid eyes of Alessandra Ferri as Woolf/Clarissa Dalloway, drawn out of retirement in her 50s and still moving as though without weight. In Woolf Works 2017 she will alternate the lead role with ex-principal Mara Galeazzi, returning to the stage after her premature retirement.
If the form is unusual, its narrative/abstract mix suits Wayne McGregor, Royal Ballet resident choreographer since 2006, under the guiding hand of dramaturge Uzma Hameed. We advise reading the synopsis though, to really appreciate his achievement.
We wouldn’t miss this triumphant return, and neither should you.
Note: Woolf Works tickets
go on sale to the general public at 9am on the 18th October 2016.
Live cinema relay of Woolf Works on the 8th February 2017
|What||Wayne McGregor's Woolf Works, Royal Opera House|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
21 Jan 17 – 14 Feb 17, Times vary, also 13:30 and 19:00
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|