The Royal Ballet’s The Winter’s Tale Review

Act II is a glorious display of classical technique expertly weaved with Wheeldon’s contemporary influence.


Christopher Wheeldon’s The Winter’s Tale returned to Covent Garden last Tuesday for 15 performances by three casts.  The ballet, which premiered in 2014 to critical acclaim, is based on Shakespeare’s play of the same name which Wheeldon has carved to create a three-act dance spectacular.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph‘s Mark Monahan, Wheeldon admits that Tale is a ballet best watched knowing what is happening or having read the programme before the show.  And while he may be able to admit this it is certainly an area for Wheeldon to work on.  He is known for his short works – among them the brilliant Within The Golden Hour and After The Rain – but he has no reach on MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet.  Wheeldon’s choreography may have been laced with hidden gestures but, unlike MacMillan RomeoTale‘s dancing and narrative seem incapable of co-existing.

Alas, it is what it is – but it is wonderful.

The choreography is phenomenal – particularly in Act II, it is a glorious display of classical technique expertly weaved with Wheeldon’s contemporary influence.  The ballet is full of picture-perfect moments with exquisite colours and dazzling designs by Bob Crowley.

Opening night was danced by the ballet’s original cast – a grand total of six of the Royal Ballet’s principal dancers. Lauren Cuthbertson offered a gracious take on Queen Hermione, Wheeldon’s choreography clearly a compliment to her style.  Edward Watson’s dramatic prowess as King Leontes is a wonder, particularly as he spider-walks across the stage on demi pointe in Act I.  As their long-lost daughter, Perdita, Sarah Lamb is elegant though not as refined as the third cast’s Francesca Hayward.

Steven McRae’s Florizel is bubbly and full of jaw-dropping jumps, but there is not much to be said of Florizel’s father, King Polixenes, portrayed by Federico Bonelli – not to his fault but rather the choreography which really doesn’t give him much to do.  Zenaida Yanowsky danced the role of Paulina, head of Queen Hermione’s Household.  Yanowsky is a joy to watch – her tall stature and expressive qualities demanding everyone’s attention.

The downfalls of the production, apart from its dance-narrative complex, are the sounds Wheeldon chose to incorporate – it sometimes felt like a Sim™-fest as the corps de ballets cheered and aww’ed at the ongoings.  However, the graphics here are much less overwhelming that Wheeldon’s 2011  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  Tale‘s projections (designed by Daniel Brodie), are much less overpowering and aid in the progression of the ballet rather than distract from what the main spectacle on stage might be.

The Winter’s Tale will run until 10 June, 2016.  For tickets, casting and further details visit the website of the Royal Opera House.

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