Choreographing the Corn Laws is a bit of an ask – narrative ballet inevitably struggles for nuance when it comes to statecraft.
Similar to Kenneth MacMillan’s Mayerling – where Hungarian nationalism boils down to conspiratorial whispers – Cathy Marston’s Victoria attempts to navigate the interplay between royalty and Realpolitik. It concerns the murky business of imperialism, with a lot of ministerial finger wagging and an artfully deployed topographical cloth.
This is a very minor shortcoming in a full-length ballet that radiates emotional intelligence and choreographic invention. More than monarchy, it’s about the freighted dynamic between mother and daughter – therein lies its power.
Instead of straightforward biography, the ballet – elegantly scored and neatly designed – flits between past and present as Victoria’s youngest daughter Beatrice (the gravely resonant Pippa Moore) edits her late mother’s diaries, in the process discovering dimensions beyond the presiding image of moral matriarch and grieving “grandmother of Europe”.
The details of her mater’s wedding night make unhappy reading for Beatrice, but it gives primacy to female desire, something so often missing from garden-variety, routinely spread-eagled ballet sex.
Marston and dramaturg Uzma Hameed so deftly interrogate the way in which we form personal narratives from nostalgia and inherited trauma. Like MacMillan, Marston is a poet of pointe, nimbly establishing character via footwork.
Young Victoria (vivid Abigail Prudames) scuds on her heels and slides on her toes, performing an enraged jig of resentment in the face of her controlling mother. Victoria’s signature pose – feet placed wide, arms aloft – is one of pride and precariousness. This is a ballet to treasure.