Saturday, June 11, 2016

Fascinating New Feelings at The Winter's Tale, Royal Ballet, 10 June 2016

Image credit: DanceTabs
At about 30 odd viewings and counting, this ballet really should not surprise me. Yet it not only did; it recaptured me wholeheartedly and brought me to the edge of my seat, wringing my hands until they paled.

Back in its 2014 premiere, I was already won over -- in fact, it was that very ballet that reawakened this blog, to give words to the many emotions that were overflowing from me, out of the theatre, and onto Bow Street. But since then, The Winter's Tale has been doing some very interesting evolution -- bringing out more of the emotional complexity that I loved in the original, resulting in an interpretation that is now far more human, far richer and beautifully uncomfortable.

The thing most clear now is how flawed Leontes is. Before, he came across as simply mad, which, to be honest, was a characterization almost too vanilla for Edward Watson. His anger and jealousy were unwavering, but because of that, uninteresting. In this new run, however, these emotions slowly grow on him. Watson doesn't rise straight to a gut-clenching, arm-twisting fervour in his solo -- instead, he is visibly cautious, confused as much as he is angered by the possibility of Hermoine's infidelity running through his mind. Even as he accuses Polixenes and Hermoine, he backs off every few steps to tease that perhaps he has calmed himself and is thinking clearly once more. He keeps vacillating in the conclusion he has drawn -- such than when he finally reaches for the knife, his murderous intent feels like a clear choice, not something he was driven to in a frenzy.

Consequently, Leontes becomes highly unlikeable. Before, he was just plain mad, to an almost forgivable degree. I mean, it happens to us all the time -- something snaps, everything becomes a blurry red haze, and we emerge on the other side friendless, childless, wifeless (or something to that effect). But for him to actually have a moment where he considers the baby, stirring hopeful excitement from Paulina; or for him to stare long, hard and almost gentle at Hermoine during her plea -- well then it makes me hate him to the core when he finally condemns his wife regardless. He is weak and unkind -- his actions resulting from a shallow need to preserve his pride.

Not only do I despise Leontes, it appears none of the other characters can stand him either. No one can bring themselves to smile at him throughout the ballet. Paulina turns her head away in disgust as he walks past her during the trial; Polixenes leans reflexively to run away when their paths cross again. Mamillius too (played again by the increasingly mature Joe Parker) clearly knows which parent to sidle up to.

Even the end is discomforting in this respect because it is clearly not a redemption for Leontes. It's been 16 years already but Hermoine is still disdainful of him -- she repeats her pleading arabesques almost to test if he is still the same insecure bastard inside. It is so much to Lauren Cuthbertson's credit that this scene sits as unsatisfyingly as it does -- she is now the one to vacillate whether she will hate him or tolerate him for the sake of their daughter. Zenaida Yanowsky (of course, that magical creature) likewise imbues Paulina with that uncomfortable tension, where it is clear that at not one moment does she forgive Leontes, nor is she trying to help him through a difficult time. There is no care in her embrace or her cradling of his head -- there is only a deeply buried rage that she has turned into resignation, to do a great duty of love for Hermoine, and transform him as much as possible into a better man while she waits in hiding.

Thus tonight, I am left full of angst. And I absolutely love it.

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