The Royal Ballet: Woolf Works

Posted: May 15th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Royal Ballet: Woolf Works

The Royal Ballet, Woolf Works, Royal Opera House, May 13

Federico Bonelli and Alessandra Ferri in Wayne McGregor's Woolf Works (photo: Tristram Kenton)

Federico Bonelli and Alessandra Ferri in Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works (photo: Tristram Kenton)

Anyone who knows Wayne McGregor’s work to date would be hard pressed to guess he is the choreographer of the first act of Woolf Works, infused with literary weight and embodied in the lithe, tragic figure of Alessandra Ferri as Virginia Woolf. The act dances like a story; characters enter and leave through giant wooden frames that revolve slowly as they wait to be filled with or emptied of portraits from the past: lovers, her husband, and a soldier killed in the First World War. By her presence alone, it seems, Ferri holds McGregor’s hand and gently traces her movements. Her quality has a stillness that is foreign to the choreographer but he has made this work with her in mind and appears to follow her lead whenever she is on stage. In an interview with Sarah Crompton, Ferri, who returns to the Royal Opera House stage at the age of 52, puts her finger gently but firmly on the phenomenon we are seeing: “You have baggage which a young dancer cannot have because it comes with experience in life and on stage. I feel I am refined to the essential. Companies now, the world over, are very young. When I grew up here in this Company we had dancers like Antoinette Sibley and Merle Park who had a lot of experience. Michael Somes was still here. They had theatrical weight. Now, because the repertory requires these 20-year-old bodies, companies are very young and I think there is a link missing.’ She fills that gap; when she is alone, as she turns in on herself with soft, beguiling spirals, she is at her most expressive. As soon as the men begin to partner her — Federico Bonelli as her young lover or Gary Avis as her husband Leonard — McGregor’s choreography does not maintain those qualities and like a flower that is inexpertly pruned she withdraws from being Woolf to being manipulated. In her sapphic relations with the playful Francesca Hayward and Beatriz Stix-Brunell she is more at ease; women in McGregor’s universe know how to relate to each other.

Max Richter’s score is at its most refined in the first act, flowing like memories and ticking like time. The literary nature infects the scenic elements, too, not in its linear narrative but in the painting of inner emotions and thoughts, the stream of consciousness for which Woolf’s output was celebrated. Lucy Carter moulds Ferri and her lovers in an almost palpable emotion of light and haze and Ciguë’s frames change the perspective of now and then with a simplicity that belies — or because of — their scale. However, the panorama of Woolf’s garden at Monk’s House that is projected through the frames onto the backdrop takes us into the realm of an exhibition (for which much of the program resembles the catalogue).

Woolf Works is called a triptych because it joins three scenes from three of Woolf’s novels like an altarpiece of her life. The first, I Now, I Then is based on Mrs Dalloway, the second, Becomings, on Orlando and the third, Tuesday, on The Waves. Apart from Watson’s histrionics as a shell-shocked soldier, the fragile sensibility of I Now, I Then gives way to an excuse for McGregor’s standard overextended vocabulary in the time-travelling, shape-shifting central depiction of Becomings. Needless to say Ferri is nowhere to be seen, replaced by a willowy Natalia Osipova who, despite the choreographic desecration of the Woolf altar, makes an extraordinary statement of hyperextended sensuality. Around her is a chaos of couples and brutish couplings (McGregor has not mastered the idea of partnering) racing across a black reflective floor in exotic costumes of the centuries (by Moritz Junge) like figures by Hieronymous Bosch on ecstasy. It looks as if the choreographer has thrown everything he can into Becomings that the presence of Ferri elsewhere would not permit. It is also an occasion for a high-quality light show unleashed by both Carter’s ingenuity and the Opera House’s resources. The function of lighting is traditionally to illuminate the dancers but the level of production here puts lighting on a choreographic level.

The final panel, as Ravi Deepres’ slow motion film of waves suggests rather redundantly, is from The Waves. Ferri is the central character again so McGregor is on his best behaviour, or almost. This is the scene where Woolf ends her life (she drowned herself in 1941 by walking into the river Ouse weighted down by stones in her pockets). The panel opens with a reading by Gillian Anderson of Woolf’s final letter to Leonard, a scene that doesn’t immediately suggest Ferri being partnered by a semi-naked Bonelli; it is an interaction that interferes with her lonely, tragic state of mind. There are children who rise on a lift at the back underneath the waves and play games on the shore with rope. They are the children of Woolf’s sister Vanessa Bell (though this is only evident if you read the program) in the form of Sarah Lamb. Ferri sits contemplating, then turns to watch her sister and nieces playing. She gathers her shawl and wanders slowly around the stage while other characters rise on the lift as if arriving on a platform at rush hour to surge on to the stage. McGregor revels in choreographic distraction so it takes concentration to follow Ferri as she keeps her meditative pace around the stage until she arrives in front of the crowd, facing them. Then she is inextricably upended by assorted men and passed between them as if her final parting were a social event. In The Waves she writes about death as ‘active, positive like all the rest, exciting; and of great importance — as an experience. The one experience I shall never describe.’ The choreography fails to take up the challenge. The projected waves gather velocity, the chorus retreats and Bonelli is left to drag Ferri’s dry body to its resting place.

When the curtain rises Ferri is alone on stage to receive the applause; it is apt, not only out of respect for the artist she is, but because she is the saviour of Woolf, not only of the Works but of the woman.


Wayne McGregor | Random Dance: Dancing in the Rain Room

Posted: December 5th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Wayne McGregor | Random Dance: Dancing in the Rain Room

Wayne McGregor | Random Dance in Rain Room, The Curve, Barbican Centre, December 1

rain room

There is an installation at The Curve in the heart of the Barbican Centre that allows you to walk through the rain without getting wet – no umbrellas provided. It is Random International’s Rain Room and it is a thing of beauty to behold and to walk through. Walk slowly and the movement sensors in the ceiling will track you and keep the rain from falling on your space; as you walk you mould a dry bubble around you. If you walk too fast you get wet. On some days (all too few: for details you will have to consult the Barbican website) the space is shared by dancers from Wayne McGregor | Random Dance, which adds a whole new, fluid dimension to the installation. Jessica Wright and Davide Di Pretoro were dancing on the day I attended and because dancers and onlookers are subject to the same laws of motion sensors, Wright and Di Pretoro were performing uniquely adagio movement, something one doesn’t often have a chance to savour in a McGregor performance. Wright performs for fifteen minutes: a solo, a duet with Di Pretoro and another solo. The vocabulary is based on articulation of all joints and limbs which, slowed down, has the sense of tentacular motion under water, current-driven, rippling, though there is tension in the extended hands and feet and at the limits of articulation. As the dancers move, they push the boundaries of the rain around them, creating a dry oasis that moves with them. McGregor says he has structured 25 hours of choreography for this event, but as you are limited to five minutes in the room because of space requirements and because the queue extends to five o’clock and beyond, the 25 hours will remain largely unseen. The dance sequences are part choreographed and part improvised, and the nature of the performance, by virtue of the way it is presented, is open-ended.

With one floodlight at the far end of the room, the effect of seeing the dance through the illuminated rain is beautiful. As McGregor says in the video link below, to see the installation is to see the rain as a spatial object and the dancers as artifacts in a performative exhibition. Pina Bausch may have preferred her dancers to get wet and to have the sensation of getting wet, but Random International’s Rain Room offers something between projection and the real thing. A score by Max Richter envelops the piece in a suitably fluid sound, not quite watery but sensuous. Random International (no relation to Random Dance) has not yet got the measure of a dry floor so after fifteen minutes of dancing the shoes get quite wet, but for those walking through in the allotted five minutes there is no need for wellies. Another piece of advice for those who would like to experience the Rain Room: the motion sensors see you better if you wear light-coloured clothing (the dancers are in skin colours) and black may fool the sensors into raining on your absence.

Aware of the time constraints on the viewer for this brief, sensory experience, McGregor calls it a snapshot of dance, and there is certainly plenty of that, almost more snapshot than dance: it is a photographer’s delight. But in that snapshot is an opportunity to see beautiful dancers up close in a weather system that enhances the experience. Keep calm, walk slowly, and wear bright colours. It will brighten up the Rain Room, and (if you can arrive early) your day.

The Rain Room is open until 3 March 2013 and Wayne McGregor | Random Dance will be performing again on Sun 20 January 2013 and Sun 24 February 2013 (11am – 5pm). Entry is free to both the Rain Room and the performances. You can find out more about the Rain Room exhibition on the Barbican Centre website.

To watch a video of the installation, use either of the links below: