I must confess to not being an avid reader of many of Virginia Woolf’s works. I did however, research the books on which this ballet is based. Without this research, I would have found it difficult to understand the themes of each part.
Created in three parts, Woolf Works isn’t a story ballet. Instead, the three parts delve into three of Woolf’s novels, layered with images from her own life.
I now, I then is based on Mrs Dalloway, with Alessandra Ferri as the heroine remembering her past through the course of a day. Clocks chime through Max Richter’s score, nudging her from memory to the present and back again.
Becomings is inspired by Woolf’s Orlando. Richter’s music ranges from Elizabethan-tinged strings to electronica, while spectacular lighting fills the stage and the auditorium with laser beams.
Tuesday opens with a reading of Woolf’s farewell letter to her husband. She is a woman facing her own mortality, as lines of dancers emerge from darkness, framing and partnering her.
Woolf Works is an emotional ride of modern dance and classical technique blended together to make a thought-provoking work.
Apart from accomplished dancing from the principals and corps (including children from the Royal Ballet School), there are three people who deserve special mention.
Firstly, Alessandra Ferri as Virginia Woolf. An Italian prima ballerina, she danced with the Royal Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and La Scala Theatre Ballet and as an international guest artist, before temporarily retiring in 2007, aged 44, then returning in 2013. The choreography required left no allowances for her age and she did not disappoint. I admired the control she still maintained over her body and her ability to be still on stage.
Secondly, Wayne McGregor who, collaboratively with his team of dancers, devised and choreographed Woolf Works. His use of space and his ability to push dancers to their limits ensured that each part was a creative, separate, spellbinding entity.
Lastly, Max Richter the composer. I was particularly impressed with his music for the last ballet. Tuesday is an adaption of The Waves by Woolf. The musical interpretation was evocative and reminded me of Debussy’s La Mer.
Add to the above the amazing moving set pieces, back projection, lasers and simple yet striking costumes and you have a night of ballet that is thought provoking and exciting the same time.
Woolf Works may not be for everybody, but it is a feast for those of us who like to be challenged, not just be entertained.
Reviewed by Barry Hill
Rating out of 10: 9
Woolf Works will screen again on 22 March 2017 as part of the Palace Opera & Ballet cinema season, presenting The Royal Opera House, La Scala and Opéra national de Paris – exclusive to the Palace Nova Eastend cinemas.