BWW Review: Christopher Wheeldon's THE WINTER'S TALE Sparkles Through the Snow
The themes of friendship, betrayal, romance, paranoia and regret run through Christopher Wheeldon's soon to be iconic The Winter's Tale. A joint commission by The Royal Ballet (premiered in 2014) and The National Ballet of Canada (premiered a few months ago), it sparkled during its American premiere at The Kennedy Center.
Wheeldon owes part of the ballet's success to the brilliant production design by Bob Crowley; the plot is complicated and does not naturally lend itself to dance. Friends become enemies, royalty become peasants and then are revealed as royalty, and a statue comes to life. To help the audience, the characters' costumes were color-coded. The two kings, Leontes and Polixenes, wore green and red respectively. Leontes's wife, Hermione, was in purple but gained a green necklace at her wedding. Polixenes' son, Florizel, was costumed in red pants, and Perdita was also in purple with her mother's green necklace. These cues allowed the audience to immediately identify these new characters in Act II. However, the design faltered with a series of wintery scenes that were projected throughout the ballet on the back of the scrim. This gambit felt cloying and on the nose, especially as an impending blizzard was about to descend into the District.
Wheeldon's choreography has long been heralded as brilliant. In The Winter's Tale, his dancers' movements were extremely stylized, carving shapes into the air. They created beautiful pictures with every step. Hannah Fischer, only a second soloist, as Hermione made an incredible case for a promotion. Her performance was not only technically impressive but contained emotional depth, critical to the story.
The Winter's Tale is a thoroughly modern ballet. Wheeldon focuses entirely on telling a story and there is no unnecessary promenading. The action does not stop for a pas de deux--rather the pas deux is in service to the action by helping to establish the characters' emotions. While The National Ballet of Canada is one of the world's top ballet companies, it is frequently overlooked in favor of companies in New York or Moscow. The Winter's Tale is a complex ballet that requires a superb company, and The National Ballet of Canada delivers.