Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works review at Royal Opera House, London – ‘a classic’
If for nothing else, Woolf Works will be remembered for bringing back to the Covent Garden stage the fabulous Alessandra Ferri at the age of 52. Two years on, Ferri again takes the central roles in two of the ballets as characters inevitably linked to Virginia Woolf herself.
The opening I Now, I Then is taken from Mrs Dalloway with the protagonist looking back on her younger self. Huge wooden frames revolve slowly as Ferri wanders through the character’s own history like a refugee from Resnais’ Last Year in Marienbad. Etched in golden light, Francesca Hayward plays her younger self with remarkable attention to physical detail, adding youthful bounce to Ferri’s elegant mercury.
McGregor’s signature angularity and accelerated movement are more pronounced in the transgendering Orlando with Natalia Osipova and Steven McRae clad identically in gold Elizabethan costumes as two halves of the same creature. Lucy Carter’s laser lighting splits open the stage like a rent in the temporal fabric as McGregor’s piece accelerates into the future, dancers colliding and separating like atoms. Osipova’s extraordinarily flexible technique suggests that even her bones are plastic. As Max Richter’s bubbling echo chamber electronica surges to a climax it’s sonic signature prepares us for the final part The Waves, in which Ferri is tossed and turned in the intimate turbulence of the ensemble beneath a widescreen film of of barely moving waves.
McGregor’s most mature work, it is a precision-tooled example of how best to convey the essence of a literary source without being a slave to interpretation.