The Lyric, QPAC, 29 June
The Royal Ballet’s Brisbane season opened spectacularly with the first performance, outside Great Britain, of Wayne McGregor’s "Woolf Works". Fearlessly, McGregor has tackled the feminist icon of English literature, Virginia Woolf, and made a triptych of works based on her writings that, like them, are daring, visionary and experimental, but also intimate and deeply humane.
Woolf was a modernist, her writing informed by many other art forms, which adds to its multidimensionality. McGregor, known for his collaborative approach has therefore, in a natural fit, evocatively integrated the elements of music, film, and lighting into the works, the result being of a visual and aural complexity that needs more than one visit to fully digest.
The three works are drawn from different books, Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves, with a biographical thread running between the first and last that also draws Woolf’s life and death into the abstract, non-linear narrative.
I now, I then begins with Woolf’s own sibilant voice, as projections of her written words swirl en mass, in the space. Three large and industrially chunky wooden frames slowly rotate to construct different settings, while fragmented projections of pre-war London and the chimes of Big Ben add visual texture and context.
The work revolves around the characters of Peter, Sally and Septimus, as Mrs Dalloway (or with deliberate ambiguity, Woolf) reminisces on past loves and lost opportunities. Guest Artist, Alessandra Ferri, as Clarissa Dalloway was still, at 54, a sublimely eloquent dancer, drawing on her lived experience to convey a depth and richness of emotion.
Francesca Hayward, as the young Dalloway, showed an exquisite length of line and diaphanous quality, while Edward Watson brought a gut-wrenching pathos to the role of the shell-shocked Septimus. His duet with Tristan Dyer, as Peter, of swooping, undulating arms and upper body underpinned by classically constructed legwork, all teetering slightly off-balance, was breathtakingly moving.
Becomings shows the McGregor we are familiar with – high octane, pyrotechnical movement pushing the boundaries of classical technique. In this journey through time, the original linear narrative is fractured to highlight the key fascinations of Woolf – the co-existence of multiple selves, androgyny and gender identity.
Reflecting the cosmic reach of the novel, Lucy Carter’s lighting design has lasers cut green slices or grid-like patterns through the haze filled space, as the movement builds to a climax, and urged forward by Max Richter’s pulsating electronically enhanced score.
Steven McRae was musically faultless here, with a precision and clarity to every movement that riveted, while Natalia Osipova’s extraordinary facility was taken to its physical limits in a mesmerisingly erotic duet with Watson, which displayed extensions that seemed to never end.
Tuesday, from Woolf’s The Waves, is a juxtaposition of the novel’s poetic exploration of the inevitability of life and death with elements of Woolf’s own biography, in particular her last day alive – Woolf committed suicide by drowning, on a Tuesday.
An enormous, monochromatic video image (Ravi Deepres) of slowly breaking surf dominates the lone figure of Ferri as, in the opening moments, we hear a voiceover of Woolf’s suicide note to her husband Leonard.
Frederico Bonelli (as Leonard) partners Ferri with a tenderness that is heartbreaking, as, swooping and soaring, he carries her like the waves, through the surging mass of men, women and children that come and go, to her final resting place.
For Woolf, literary style was "all rhythm", and in Tuesday the complexity of choreographic patterns and shapes, set contrapuntally against the visual image of unrelenting rolling waves, and underpinned by Richter’s surging score, has a rhythm that resonates deeply.
Complex, profound, and conceived with such integrity, intelligence and sophistication, "Woolf Works" was quite simply extraordinary.
– Denise Richardson
The Royal Ballet presents The Winter's Tale at QPAC 5-9 July.
Top: Alessandra Ferri & Frederico Bonelli in 'I now, I then'. Photo: Darren Thomas.