Woolf Works Really Works

By Savannah Whaley Last edited 42 months ago
Woolf Works Really Works ★★★★★ 5
Photo by Tristram Kenton.

Londonist Rating:


Woolf Works, a ballet inspired by the life and works of Virginia Woolf, mesmerises and challenges its audience just as Woolf’s fiction does her readers. Wayne McGregor is celebrated for his innovative and unconventional choreography and this, his first full-length work for the Royal Ballet, is a breath-taking collage of physical and technological experimentation that does not disappoint.

Each section of the triptych is based, loosely, on one of Woolf’s best-loved works: Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves. In each act, Woolf’s fiction has been pared down and reworked, the impossible task of putting one of Woolf’s stories onstage is, thankfully, not attempted, and instead McGregor has triumphed in capturing the essence and spirit of her modernist prose.

Max Richter’s original score is similarly evocative, creating a completely different atmosphere in each section, subtly suggesting external references — deep drum beats hint at war canons in the opening section I Now, I Then, and the orchestra echoes the crash and suck of waves on a shore in the final act Tuesday.

Characters divide and multiply, with the former Royal Ballet principal dancer Alessandra Ferri, returning to the Royal Opera House after a seven-year period of retirement, playing both Clarissa Dalloway and Woolf herself. She haunts the stage with a grace and presence that draws the audience’s gaze.

It is however, the second act, Becomings, that most stands out, grabbing attention with lasers and angular, dynamic movement. The time-travelling, gender-bending protagonist of Woolf’s playful and irreverent ‘biography’, Orlando, is presented as both man and woman through the use of cross-dressing and dancers doubling.

Moritz Junge’s costume design is exceptional; half of the troupe wear a dazzling fabric that looks like liquid gold, dynamically incorporating Elizabethan ruffs and pantaloons into an ensemble that manages to seem, somehow, both futuristic and Renaissance at the same time.

The choreography is compelling and crosses generic and stylistic boundaries, and the performances are, unsurprisingly, consummate. For Woolf and ballet fans alike, this is not a show to miss.

By Savannah Whaley

Woolf Works continues at the Royal Opera House until 26 May. Tickets £4 - £65. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary ticket.

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Last Updated 09 October 2015