Woolf’s Works | Royal BalletLeft – I Now, I Then. Cover – Orlando. Photos – Darren Thomas

Choreographer Wayne McGregor’s vision to create a ballet inspired by Virginia Woolf’s three novels Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves was daring enough. Yet McGregor goes beyond this goal, complex enough as it is, to embroider each work with telling threads from the writer’s life. Woolf’s novels are complex, with flashbacks and distortions of time, illuminating moments rather than narrative. An acquaintance with these novels brings extra luminosity in experiencing this ambitious tryptich. Yet each ballet can be pleasurably consumed without referencing Woolf at all.

Max Richter’s pulsing, rich score spiced with electronic and orchestral music serves the choreography with keening insight. Its intensity illuminates and heightens the ballet’s meaning and enables the choreography. Stage settings are stylish yet simple and used to great effect and the production is excellent.

Alessandra Ferri at 54 is extraordinarily eloquent, lithe and compelling and dances with stunning sensitivity and grace as the older Clarissa in 'I Now, I Then' and as Virginia Woolf in 'Tuesday' the third work. Beatriz Stix-Brunell as the younger Mrs Dalloway bristles with energy and exuberance and her performance is a brilliant foil to Ferri's.

McGregor’s achievement lies in the easeful transitions he achieves between past and present, in the expression of intimacy and eroticism and in how he conjures the essence of the period and the tragic fall out of World War I. The latter represented by a shell-shocked soldier, danced to perfection by Edward Watson, whose motivation to integrate into post-war life is all too often crushed by hideous memories and the legacy of physical frailty.

'I Now, I Then' is followed by 'Becomings' a high-tech, glitzy essay, costumed in glittery gold is admittedly a superb vehicle for the dancers’ stunning virtuosity but the least successful in achieving artistic authenticity. Even so, the high-paced spins and exhilarating, exacting moves are thrilling as McGregor conveys Orlando, an Elizabethan poet, whose gender changes as the centuries unfold.

'Tuesday' begins with a moving reading by Gillian Anderson of Virginia Woolf’s heartfelt suicide letter to her husband. Ambitiously, this work portrays the writer’s death, who ended her life in a river as well as the interior voices of her novel, ‘The Waves.’ The breathtaking backdrop of a slow motion seascape depicting the infinite rhythm and roll of ocean waves is beautifully symbolized by an expressive chorus of dancers counterpointed by the achingly sad, reflective final moments of the writer. This haunting wonderfully rendered ballet will live on in the memory of those lucky enough to have been in the audience.

Royal Ballet
Woolf Works
A Triptych

Direction and Choreography Wayne McGregor

Venue: Lyric Theatre, QPAC
Date: 29 July 2017
Bookings: www.qpac.com.au

2017 QPAC International Series

Now playing Brisbane