Review: Wheeldon’s ‘Winter’s Tale’ Culminates the Lincoln Center Festival
Hannah Fischer and Artists of The National Ballet of Canada in The Winter’s Tale. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor.
By Sheila Kogan, Contributing Writer, August 2, 2016
The Winter’s Tale, Christopher Wheeldon’s sumptuous telling of Shakespeare’s play is performed by the world-class company, The National Ballet of Canada. With a huge cast of dancers, it’s a tasteful, beautifully designed and expensive-looking production. The talented set-and-costume designer Bob Crowley has created handsome elements, like simple, free-standing pillars and steep staircases to indicate the royal palace, and a fabulously fanciful, magical tree that sets the tone for the country celebrations. The costumes of the royalty in Sicilia are simpler than those of the peasants (whose outfits incorporate Eastern European folk crafts of Bohemia). Video projections designed by Daniel Brodie might show rain outside a window or take us on journeys on the sea or in the clouds, sometimes on enormous panels of silk. Basil Twist, the celebrated puppeteer, is credited with “Silk Design Effects.”
The highly trained classical ballet dancers bring the highest level of fine craftsmanship and artistry to the stage. I saw a wonderful cast, especially the exquisite dancers Hannah Fischer (Hermione, Queen of Sicilia) and Xiao Nan Yu (Paulina, the Head of Queen Hermione’s Household). Wheeldon’s choreography for these women is particularly beautiful and touching. For Leontes, the King of Sicilia, Wheeldon uses angular gestures to create a portrait of a man going mad with jealousy. Piotr Stanczyk conveyed the anguish of the character with the intensity of his dancing.
British Christopher Wheeldon, recent Tony-winner for Broadway’s An American in Paris, choreographed and created the scenario (with Joby Talbot, who also composed the original music). In the first act, the complex, disturbingly emotional story is clearly and dramatically told using a dance vocabulary (with appropriately dark, discordant music played by The National Ballet of Canada Orchestra). In the second act, the peasant community celebrates joyously. The music changes to a lighter, crystalline tone, emphasizing different instruments (including an onstage banda of bansuri, dulcimer, accordion and drums). Wheeldon has choreographed inventive patterns and happy individual dances, but too much of a good thing, as the dancing continues and continues—and the story line gets lost. In the third act, all the threads of the story are tied up, but it’s confusing and feels quick and superficial. It’s too bad that Wheeldon wasn’t able to consistently tell the story in dance, but nonetheless, I was caught up with this gorgeous production and the talents of the extraordinary dancers.
The Winter’s Tale presented as part of the Lincoln Center Festival July 28-31, 2016 at the David H. Koch Theater, New York City. Choreography: Christopher Wheeldon; music: Joby Talbot; staging: Jacquelin Barrett and Anna Délicia Trévien; Scenario: Christopher Wheeldon and Joby Talbot; set and costume design: Bob Crowley; lighting design: Natasha Katz; projection design: Daniel Brodie; silk effects design: Basil Twist; repetiteurs: Mandy-Jayne Richardson, Lindsay Fischer; music director and principal conductor: David Briskin. The National Ballet of Canada, founder: Celia Franca, C.C.; music director emeritus: George Crum; artistic director: Karen Kain; executive director: Barry Hughson. Principal Dancers: Guillaume Côté, Jurgita Dronina, Naoya Ebe, Greta Hodgkinson, Harrison James, Elena Lobsanova, Svetlana Lunkina, McGee Maddox, Evan McKie, Heather Ogden, Sonia Rodriguez, Piotr Stanczyk, Jillian Vanstone, Xiao Nan Yu