By Guest Reviewer Nance Haxton

Images courtesy of Darren Thomas

Woolf Works at QPAC, Brisbane, Australia – Exhilarating. Stunning. Exquisite. 

Many times, as the Royal Ballet’s Woolf Works evolves on stage, I and many others in the audience are moved to tears. It is the company’s first visit to Australia in 15 years, a coup for Brisbane.

And they did not disappoint.

If there was any nervousness about performing this show for the first time out of the company’s traditional home in London’s Covent Garden, the dancers do not show it. They interpret the intricate and contrasting demands of the three distinct chapters of Virginia Woolf’s life with deceptive ease, showing remarkable athleticism as they rise to the challenge of choreographer Wayne McGregor’s phantasm.

Act 1 I now, I then – Guest Artist Alessandra Ferri

When McGregor was appointed as the Royal Ballet’s resident choreographer ten years ago, it was seen as a risky undertaking. Much of his expertise lay in contemporary dance, with almost no classical training. Woolf Works shows that the gamble is well placed, showcasing the work of visionary choreographer at the height of his powers.

Virginia Woolf’s remarkable works do not struggle to transcend communication through music and dance. From Max Richter’s evocative original score, to the pared back bleak set reflecting the turmoil of Virginia Woolf’s mind, to the emotional rendering of this difficult subject matter by the dancers, this show soars as all parts blend in perfect harmony.

The ballet triptych is drawn from three of Virginia Woolf’s landmark novels – Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves, intertwined with spoken and moving excerpts from her letters, essays and diaries.

Act 1 I now, I then – Guest Artist Principal Francesca Hayward, Alessandra Ferri & First Soloist Beatriz Stix-Brunell

Part One – I Now, I Then, shows Mrs Dalloway dancing with her husband while gazing at her younger self.

The second part of the Triptych, Becomings, veers into a space age fantasy of laser beams and shiny modernistic costumes. A risky interpretation, but rather than straying into the realm of twee, the dancers beautifully reveal Orlando’s transformation through different genders while travelling through time.

Act 2 Becomings – Edward Watson

But part three is the body blow. Starting with Virginia Woolf’s suicide note, Tuesday takes the audiences vicariously along with guest artist Alessandra Ferri on stage, as she reflects on the life she had.  The scene, featuring remarkably talented school age children, is particularly affecting, as their joy serves only to highlight Virginia Woolf’s conflict and sadness. The background waves roll relentlessly over the stage, adding another dimension to the dancers’ reflections and to the turbulent score.

Guest artist Allessandra Ferri is dazzling, the audience emotionally wrung out by the end, as we leave her lying on the stage.

Act 3 The Waves – Federico Bonelli and Guest Artist Alessandra Ferri

Using modern dance to reveal Virginia Woolf’s life, there is no barrier between audience and story, as sometimes happens with jarring modern interpretations that seem to aim to alienate rather than involve.

So much of the credit for this extraordinary vision lays at the feet of choreographer Wayne McGregor, who conceptualises this production from the outset, and surrounds himself with a creative team that bring the vision to reality on stage.



Woolf Works played at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane, Australia, 3 July 2017. For more information and tickets, click here.

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