Before even stepping foot in the theatre, those gathering in the foyer of QPAC’s Lyric Theatre were abuzz with excitement, set to witness one of the world’s most prestigious ballet companies performing in Brisbane for the first time in 15 years.
First shown in The Royal Ballet’s home of the The Royal Opera House in 2014, ‘The Winter’s Tale’ was choreographed by the company’s Artistic Associate Christopher Wheeldon, with music originally composed by Joby Talbot, performed in Brisbane by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Deemed by scholars as one of Shakespeare’s most difficult to define plays, ‘The Winter’s Tale’ encompasses tragedy, comedy, and romance.
Upon the curtain rising, the audience meet the happy couple, Leontes the King of Sicilia (Edward Watson) and his pregnant wife Hermione (Lauren Cuthbertson) as they dance together with their young son Mamillius (Scout Nicholas). Joined by their friend Polixenes (Frederico Bonelli), the King of the nearby Bohemia, the four dance as one alongside their Sicilian friends, men donned in regal coats, and ladies in elegantly flowing ankle-length dresses.
Among the towering, concrete arches, the triangle of friendship quickly turns sour, as Leontes becomes suspicious of Hermione and Polixenes closeness. Thus, ensues the most emotively dramatic scenes of the ballet; Leontes, overcome by his jealousy, acts out towards Hermione. Her lady in waiting, Paulina (Zenaida Yanowsky) fights to protect her in a sophisticated yet tumultuous balletic display. Then, when Hermione’s baby is born, Leontes irrationally demands it be abandoned.
As is with many Shakespearean works, ‘The Winter’s Tale’ incorporates almost a full range of emotions throughout the performance. Leontes is taken on a turbulent rollercoaster of emotions; his love for his son and wife, the overpowering jealousy and hatred sparked by his suspicions of his wife’s affair, but none more emotionally evocative than the solemnness and remorse he faces when losing both Hermione and Mamillius, when they are overcome with distress of losing the baby.
At complete contrast to the monochromatically harsh setting of the first act, the second act’s curtain rises on the colourful and lively Bohemia. The stage is engulfed by an enormous green tree, bare limbs exposing delicate ornaments. The dancers, now adorned in brightly coloured folk dresses and robes, perform around the tree, with musicians who play at its base. Celebrating their Bohemian springtime festival, Leontes’ abandoned daughter, named Perdita (Frencesca Hayward) dances among the villagers, and with her love, Prince Florizel the son of Polixenes (Steven McRae). It was nothing short of a true spectacle to watch Steven McRae perform as Prince Florizel, with the entire theatre applauding his incredible solo leaps across front of stage.
The festival scene encompassed the most technically impressive section of the entire ballet, with the chorus of dancers performing impeccable leaps and lifts, entrancing the audience with every move. Despite the sheer number of dancers onstage, the entire 30 minute act was infallible and, as one would expect from The Royal Ballet, without a ballerina, pointe or pirouette out of place.
A crowd gathers as Florizel and Perdita are to become engaged, however, the King of Bohemia scolds his princely son for wishing to marry a commoner. Father and son perform an incredibly strong, masculine duet, as Florizel fights to protect Perdita. Escaping the disapproval of his father, Florizel flees with Perdita to Sicilia.
In the final and shortest act of ‘The Winter’s Tale’, the two kingdoms of Sicilia and Bohemia meet, as Polixenes chases after his son. In a dramatic end to the act and the ballet, Paulina leads Leontes to Hermione’s statue, where she magically comes to life, embracing her husband and reuniting the family.
As one would imagine, there are few theatre performances on earth that could top the spectacle of The Royal Ballet, and it was an absolute privilege to enjoy a theatre piece as beautiful and remarkable as ‘The Winter’s Tale’. I can say, without a doubt in mind, that I will never see another performance like it in my lifetime.