Every time I leave a ballet, I marvel at what it has done to me. Some do a little, the worst do almost nothing at all, but the best -- the very best -- render an undeniable transformation. I write reviews as some attempt to capture this change; it is a desperate compulsion I feel after each piece to explain what I have experienced, that I might process why it engaged me so, and perhaps even pen it in a way that someone else might engage vicariously. But in many ways there is a necessary structure to this, a manner of informative exposition that pithily captures what occurred on stage, but so poorly captures what occurred inside me.
As such, this review, I write for myself. But perhaps, it is written for you too. Here is what it feels like to watch Elizabeth.
The quiet before a performance is one of my most favourite parts. Almost anything can happen. And even if you know what's supposed to happen -- who enters when and what the choreography is -- this is the point at which you surrender judgment, logic, thought, experience. In the social contract of the theatre, you give yourself to the performers, and enter the unknown. Raphael Wallfisch takes his place in the darkness on stage right, and Zenaida Yanowsky, Sonya Cullingford, Laura Caldow, Julia Righton and David Kempster arrive at their opening positions centerstage. Then, just before the first word is spoken, the first note struck or the first movement made -- in Wallfisch's poised bow and Yanowsky's parting hands -- I see a glimpse of where they will take me and the thrill of it is nearly giddying.
The story quickly unfolds, and I take in everything that Will Tuckett is saying to me. The language is foreign and fast but I grow to decipher it. I learn to toggle my attention between dancer and actor; I learn to connect them with the ticks he has given both, where Cullingford and Yanowsky wring their hands in the same way; I learn his syncopation of the movement between Yanowsky and Carlos Acosta, where in solos and even in pas de deux, they always mirror or wait on the other's move -- discovering this means that Elizabeth and her lovers are always out of phase.
I learn it sooner than I realize, suddenly able to translate his movement into not only thought, but feeling. I'm grinning the way Yanowsky is as she coyly references her bedroom affairs, or frowning the way Acosta is as his proposal is rebutted. My whole body tenses as Yanowsky watches the she-wolf Lettice Knollys, relaxes as she finds a nook in Acosta's neck to rest in, then soars as he lifts her in a pas de chat across the stage. My body has found an empathy with the movement -- and with that comes a power which is no longer in the hands of the choreographer or performers. Empathy is the point at which the audience takes over to multiply every emotion seen on stage by a hundredfold, with the joy and pain we have had in our own lives.
It is the authenticity of the performer that can bring the audience here -- one who is selfless enough in their performance to give everything to a character, and in so doing, give it away. Some dancers take the journey alone, creating a vision that the audience can find beautiful and admirable, but cannot live. But that is not the case with these performers, and especially, especially, not with Yanowsky. They bring the entirety and gravity of the characters' intentions into every part of their body as they move. Merely a glimpse in their direction and I cannot tear away, caught in the wellspring of emotion they have triggered.
And just when I am most deeply in their hold, Tuckett brings the piece around full circle. This point exists in almost every piece -- a special juncture at which it turns around and reflects upon itself, ready to unravel its true meaning and bring the weight of its message down upon the audience. As Acosta and Yanowsky dance their last two pas de deux, they replay much of the same movements from their scenes before. Elizabeth tries to revive Devereux's limp body to hold her the way others had; Acosta kisses a dying Elizabeth's hand as Dudley did, bringing a final rejuvenation that gives her the peace to let go. The symmetry of these scenes are their source of amplification, echoing the depths of what Elizabeth has lost and learnt to live with. There is far too much to speak about in these final moments of the ballet, as the volume of emotion I have built up through its course collapses in on itself.
The time here is both incredibly cacophonous and incredibly quiet. In the intensity of the emotion I find a space I rarely have the chance to visit. Not in the daily goings on that move too fast for emotions to be had let alone understood, nor even in the times of reflection where trying to understand an emotion somehow distorts it. Here, in the darkness of the audience and the light of the stage, I feel like someone has shaken me by the shoulders and told me who I am. I feel like I have been asked many deep and piercing questions that I haven't had the time to process, and I have answered as viscerally as I can through emotions I did not know I possessed. I feel like my mind has connected to my heart through a path I never knew existed, sending a shock through the rest of my body. I feel I've been helped to finish a sentence I never thought I had to say.
And then the moment ends, the lights raise, and the magic is broken. Yet it is somehow even more magical to realize it was made by the human hands that take their curtain call in front of you. I am exhausted, content, exuberant, refreshed, and I leave the theatre somehow more certain of who I am.