Shakespeare. XXI century


Christopher Wheeldon first appeared at the Bolshoi in 2007. A promising young choreographer, he staged one-act ballet Misericordes inspired by Hamlet – a kind of etude for the full-length production of this play. For more than ten years, Wheeldon’s career has gained momentum. He was appointed an Artistic Associate of The Royal Ballet, staged numerous plotless ballets around the world, and finally decided to attempt a full length narrative ballet – he hasn't done that since his youth, and he has never done that for the Royal Ballet. Obviously, he appealed to the great English literature.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland became the first attempt, and then followed Shakespeare. English critics hailed The Winter’s Tale. The international response was also not long in coming. At the Benois de la Danse awards ceremony, held as always at the Bolshoi, Christopher Wheeldon and his constant co-author composer Joby Talbot were awarded the Best Choreographer and the Best Composer prizes. After all, the Bolshoi has decided to tell its audience this tale.

Shakespeare is loved in musical theatres and the Bolshoi is no exception! In 2015 The Bolshoi’s Museum dedicated to him an exhibition "Shakespeare. Ballet. XXI century". If it had been held now, it would have been replenished with another beautiful section! Moreover, the choice of the play is not banal at all.

The Winter’s Tale is a quite complicated play to make successful performance. However, Christopher Wheeldon has found his right approach to it and demonstrated an ability to follow the age-old ballet traditions, successfully refracting them in a modern way. He refused of naïve pantomime – peculiar to old-time ballet performances and being a stumbling block for modern narrative ballet – and replaced it with more precise and significant gestures. He managed to tell this story (omitting some plot twists, of course) in a simple and clear language.

Perhaps, today the image of Leontes, king of Sicilia, is more relevant than the simple-minded Othello (if the latter does not want to believe the suspicions, the first, an evil neurotic, persists, not wanting to dispel them, and as if he draws some perverted delight in them). Wheeldon shapes this character with classical choreographic language and broken spider-like plastic, finely transmitting the growing mental stress of the sadist king. The Bohemian second act highlights a young loving couple (Prince Florizel and servant-mistress Perdita). There is also a dashing mass shepherds' dance that is simply breathtaking, in part because it takes place against a gorgeous giant tree and with accompaniment of a stage orchestra, equipped with such rare music instruments as bansuri and dulcimer.

As for personal approach, Christopher Wheeldon demonstrates it in the most effective way in the finale – in gentle and very touching duet of penitent Leontes and his wife’s statue, which comes to life. She descends from her pedestal alone, her little son will forever remain a marble sculpture and will become a real loss and payment for unforgivable sins. And after all, it is the young Prince (as you'll see by reading Shakespeare) who explains why this tale is a winter’s tale - it's a sad story.

Heavy winter sky looms over the heroes. The forward passage of time (sixteen years will pass between the first and second acts) makes seasons change on the stage. It seems that they all will pass before eyes – on the screen (projection designer – Daniel Brodie) and on the stage (set designer – Bob Crowley; his magnificent May tree becomes the emblem of this performance). A great team is responsible for visual image of this production, including puppeteer Basil Twist who serves as Silk Effects Designer (for example, he creates a spectacular sea storm).