Shakespeare’s The WInter’s Tale has a complicated plot filled with twists as it switches back and forth from tragedy to lighter moments. Reading the program notes before the National Ballet of Canada performance at Koch Theater Thursday, I was skeptical about how this would play on a ballet stage. Shakespeare is hit or miss in ballet with classics Romeo and Juliet by MacMillan and Ashton’s The Dream but with misses including ABT’s The Tempest and Othello.
Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon manages to pull off this daunting task with great storytelling prowess, capturing many nuances in the fast-moving 2 hour and 35 minute work. The ballet is a wonderful combination of choreography, original music by Joby Talbot, with sets and costumes by Bob Crowley. The trio created the 2011 Royal Ballet/National Ballet of Canada production of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland-a commercial success with limited critical acclaim. In Winter’s Tale, Wheeldon’s timing and choreography works admirably, recounting the tragic and sometimes uplifting Shakespeare tale. Add this ballet to the list of successful, expressive full-lengths from The Royal Ballet (co-produced by National Ballet of Canada).
Act I is a depressing and dark tragedy. Leontes, King of Sicilia (Piotr Stanczyk) is convinced that his pregnant wife Hermoine, Princess of Sicilia (Hannah Fischer) is having an affair with Polixenies, King of Bohemia. Leontes is enraged and he fights with Polixenes, causing Polixenes to flee. Leontes has Hermoine arrested for adultery and treason. She gives birth to a baby girl (Perdita) in prison, but Leontes rejects the child, banishing the child to a remote island. Leontes’ son Mamillius collapses and dies from the duress of seeing her mother in jeopardy at trial. Hermoine also collapses and dies from the heartbreak. Heavy stuff.
Stanczyk is effective as the dark, brooding Leontes as he flies off the handle in numerous fitful rages; his interaction with Hermoine is spellbinding as he towers over her as she shutters in fear. Although Hermoine is a strong woman, she can’t counter prolonged attacks from the King, on the losing end of a battle with the madman. Wheeldon captures the moods of the play with great clarity; it helps to read the program notes, but the action is clear-Leontes is hell-bent on self-destruction. Also illuminating are Leontes’ dream sequences, with brighter lighting to delineate dream and reality, in imagined passionate dances with Hermoine and Polixenes.
The lighting and sets capture the darkness of the events, with minimalist sets and stark, simple lighting in Act I. At the end of the act, the baby Perdita is on a ship to nowhere. The effects are dramatic, with a film on a curtain of a ship struggling mightily in a thunderstorm. At the end of the storm, the backdrop curtain falls, signifying the end of a disastrous journey, an innovative special effect that I have not seen before.
Act II introduces Perdita 16 years later, danced by Jillian Vanstone with great girlish charm and energy. She is in love with Florizel, Prince of Bohemia (Naoya Ebe), who dance a believable and touching pas de deux. Act II is bright and cheery with a giant magical tree as the centerpiece of the lush, bohemian paradise with dancers attired in colorful costumes. Wheeldon gives the corps much to work with in this act with energetic, joyful dances that were nicely done. Act II is Polixenes’ turn to be an insufferable jerk as he is enraged by the love affair and sentences Perdita to death. The two lovers flee to Sicilia. Again the ship effects are well done, with a video on a moving curtain.
In Act III, Leontes is the voice of reason after being tormented by the deaths in his family. He agrees to the union of Perdita and Florizel, and agrees help them. After the wedding of Perdita and Florizel, Leontes is remorseful, kneeling at a statue of Hermoine, when she comes back to life with the assistance of Paulina, head of the household (Xiao Nan Yu). At the end, the couple is alone, pondering past mistakes and hopeful of the future as the curtain falls on the tale of loss and redemption.
Gia Kourlas of the New York Times-2016
Alastair Macaulay of The New York Times-2016
Michael Crabb-The Star-2015
Alastair Macaulay of The New York Times-2014
Mark Monahan of The Telegraph-2016
Sarah Crompton of The Telegraph-2014
Luke Jennings of The Guardian-2014
Judity Mackrell of The Guardian-2014
Clement Crisp of The Financial Times-2014
Zoë Anderson of The Independent-2014
Jann Parry of DanceTabs-2014