The Royal Ballet Frankenstein Review

Scarlett’s production sets the bar high for ballets to come.


The Telegraph‘s Mark Monahan tossed one star in the direction of Liam Scarlett’s Frankenstein and called it “the least enjoyable full-evening work” he has ever seen the Royal Ballet perform.  I wholly disagree.

From its makeup and sets (bravo John MacFarlane!) to its brilliant choreography, Scarlett’s production sets the bar high for ballets to come.

What Scarlett has met is the expectation of the contemporary and the classical – the new generation and the old.  Many of Frankenstein’s younger audience dream of seeing high-swung legs and glitzy turns while the older crowd – well acquainted with the likes of Petipa, Ashton and MacMillan – beg for classical promenades, clean arabesques and corps de ballet action.

Frankenstein provides ample opportunity for the corps to perform – from servants to whores and their gentlemen and back again.  It is here that Scarlett is able to provide what many modern choreographers fail to do in full-length narratives.  He gives the audience classical waltzes and very near stereotypical ballet steps tainted, but not overruled, with modern lines and lifts.

As Victor, Federico Bonelli is the perfect choice – his works as Romeo and Des Grieux cutting him out as a fine lead for a romance-gone-wrong story. And that really seems to be the take Scarlett is going for – or it at least comes across this way.  From the get-go, Frankenstein leans less toward the horror we expect (though it does have its moments) and more towards the notions of love (or the need for it), innocence and acceptance (or lack thereof).

Regrettably Victor’s Acts I and II costume are too dark – the black tights against the dimly lit stage hindering the audience’s ability to see Bonelli’s footwork.

Laura Morera, a spectacle in Scarlett’s works, danced the role of Elizabeth – Victor’s wife– with utter brilliance.  Morera’s natural aptitude allowed her to fall gracefully in line with the tender disposition Elizabeth possesses in Shelley’s novel.  Particularly spellbinding are her turns – both in the many pas de deux of Victor and Elizabeth – and when she moves alone.

Her baby blue costume of the first two acts is dually suited with her character but her third act wedding gown is far too Queen of the Wilis.  In honesty, the (Act III) ballroom gowns of the corps are more than a touch too glittery for their dark colours.

Scarlett’s pas de deux – and in fact entire piece – appear reminiscent of MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet.  He has taken no time to hide these gestures with grander movements – and rightly so.  He has ingeniously intertwined MacMillan’s glorious steps into his own – moving from an airy ‘Juliet’ pull into a fast-spun finger turn ending with a pore-raising cambré.

Show-stopping though, was the Creature.  Not only is Steven McRae perfectly suited for the role (apart from his height being far off Shelley’s eight-foot description) but the makeup – which takes roughly two hours to complete – was incredible.  McRae’s interpretation is powerful – he helps the audience not only see, but empathise with the Creature’s longing for acceptance.  He is not a monster, but rather a child desperate for the love of his father.

Possibly the most moving of all the dancing was the final pas between Victor and the Creature.  Having seen the Creature go from his first variation where he crawled about the floor, to this pas where he seems to mimic his creator brings his character (undeniably the most developed) full circle.

Lowell Liebermann’s score was rich and full of pleasing melodic tones.  However, unlike Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, it is hard to place a theme so ingrained in the music that it becomes impossible to forget.  At times, Liebermann’s score takes awkward turns toward a more silver screen feel but, by and large, is written gorgeously for Scarlett’s production.

With tweaks to the ballet’s narrative allowing for more character development, Frankenstein could be as perfect as any new creation can aim to be.  And, as with everything, it must be appreciated that people’s opinions will differ.

I could go on and on for ages, describing the choreography, the costumes, the moving sets and the projections but that would spoil it for you all.  The production will be relayed live in cinemas on May 18th and the production runs until the 27th.  For tickets and further details please visit the website of the Royal Opera House.

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